Top Bioethics Stories - Fall 2011

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“Swedish Model Slashes Multiple-Birth Risk in IVF Pregnancies”

by AFP, July 4, 2011.

Swedish doctors on Monday presented a new method they said dramatically reduces the risk of multiple births from in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) without affecting chances of having a baby. (

Researchers in Sweden have developed a model based upon the woman’s age, ovarian responsiveness, and past IVF attempts, among other things, to limit the chance of multiple births following IVF treatments. The new model has reduced the number of multiple births from about 26% to 2%.

“First Study of Its Kind Shows Benefits of Providing Medical Insurance to Poor”

by Gina Kolata, The New York Times, July 5, 2011.

When poor people are given medical insurance, they not only find regular doctors and see doctors more often but they also feel better, are less depressed and are better able to maintain financial stability, according to a new, large-scale study that provides the first rigorously controlled assessment of the impact of Medicaid. (

Having run out of money to fund Medicaid, Oregon has resorted to a lottery system to determine recipients of healthcare benefits. This has triggered the first study of its kind to research medical insurance and the poor. Prior to the findings in the study, healthcare economists and law makers debated whether having healthcare made a difference in the lives of the impoverished.

“Non-invasive Embryo Gene Screen”

by Michelle Roberts, BBC News, July 5, 2011.

Fertility doctors say they have found a non-invasive way to screen IVF embryos for genetic abnormalities. The current method involves taking cells from the embryo itself, which experts fear may be harmful. Now UK researchers say it is possible to run the same checks on cells surrounding the fertilized egg that are normally thrown away. (

Researchers in the United Kingdom are working on a new method for preimplantation genetic diagnosis that they hope will be less harmful and invasive. Current methods involve taking cells directly from the embryo which could endanger the developing life. New methods, however, test cells surrounding the embryo for genetic defects thereby reducing the risk of danger to the embryo.

“Thirty Embryos Created for Every Baby Born by IVF... and Thousands are Thrown Away”

by Daniel Martin and Simon Caldwell, Mail Online, July 22, 2011.

The figures show that 3,144,386 embryos have been created in UK laboratories since the passage of the 1991 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. A total of 1,455,832 embryos were discarded in the course of treatment, 101,605 were given for research in destructive experiments, and 764,311 were frozen for later use. The rest were implanted, resulting in 94,090 births, meaning that in the region of 32 embryos are created for every live birth. (

A written statement from Health Minister Lord Howe of the UK revealed that an excess of thirty embryos are created for every birth resulting from in vitro fertilization, and over the past twenty years hundreds of thousands of embryos have been either discarded or destroyed in scientific research. Among other things, the staggering figures have called attention to the ethics of investing large amounts of money into a procedure that has a relatively low success rate (less than a 12% live birth rate per implantation). According to these statistics 97% of all embryos created did not result in live birth.

“Rule Changes Proposed for Research on Humans”

by Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, July 24, 2011.

The government is proposing sweeping changes in the rules covering research involving human subjects, an effort officials say would strengthen protections while reducing red tape that can impede studies. (

Originally drawn up in the 1970s and 1980s, the government has proposed new rules and regulations governing research conducted on human subjects. Many of the new additions reflect developments in the changing climate of research. Guidelines now include ethical practices in genomics studies, internet research, and studies conducted in multiple locations.

“Court Quashes Stem-cell Lawsuit”

by Meredith Wadman, Nature, August 2, 2011.

Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued his decision on 27 July, acknowledging a higher court's opinion that overruled a preliminary injunction that he had placed to suspend the funding last August . . . That injunction was in effect for only 17 days, but it threw the stem-cell research community into turmoil as hundreds of scientists faced a funding cut-off. All research on human embryonic stem cells at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, was shut down and reviews of grant applications were left in limbo. (

In a federal court ruling, a judge has dismissed a case that would have blocked federal funding of embryonic stem cells for the purposes of research. This landmark ruling has guaranteed the government’s ability to fund such research. The lawyer for the plaintiff hopes to explore possible avenues to appeal the case, but most feel that this attempt would be futile. The preliminary injunction, which lasted only seventeen days, led many scientists to leave this field of research, and now some fear that this will significantly set back progress of embryonic stem cell research.

“Federal Health Department Approves Free Birth Control”

by The Associated Press, USA Today, August 1, 2011.

Health insurance plans must cover birth control as preventive care for women, with no copays, the Obama administration said Monday in a decision with far-reaching implications for health care as well as social mores. (

Health insurance plans across America must now cover birth control and emergency contraceptives for women, though certain organizations are exempt on grounds of religion and conscience. Many are skeptical of this new change saying that the cost of no copay for contraceptives in the long run will result in higher insurance premiums overall.  

“Kidney Sale Proposal Sparks Medical Ethics Debate”

by Press Association, The Guardian, August 3, 2011.

People should be allowed to sell their kidneys for £28,000 to tackle a shortage of donors, a researcher has suggested. Sue Rabbitt Roff, a senior research fellow at the University of Dundee, said it was time to pilot “paid provision” of live kidneys in the UK, under “strict rules of access and equity.” (

To compensate for the shortage of kidneys available for transplantation in the UK, researchers have proposed paying donors for their organs. By offering a wage similar to a yearly income, they have argued that this would incentivize many people across different income brackets to donate. Opponents feel that this proposal is unethical because it amounts to putting a price on human dignity through the commodification of non-renewable organs and tissues of the human body.

“Sterilizing the Sick, Poor to Cut Welfare Costs: North Carolina’s History of Eugenics”

by Courtney Hutchinson, ABC News, August 4, 2011.  

Deemed “promiscuous” and “feebleminded” by a social worker at the hospital, Riddick, who came from a black family on welfare, was recommended to the state for sterilization shortly after arriving. Riddick’s illiterate grandmother, told that they were doing a “procedure” that was necessary to help the young girl, signed the sterilization papers with an “X”. The state authorized and paid for the procedure, and without her consent or even her knowledge, Riddick was sterilized shortly after giving birth. She was 14-year-old [sic]. (

Over the past 45 years 7,600 men, women, and children just like Riddick were rendered infertile during North Carolina’s sterilization program. Between the 1930s and 1980s over half of the states in the U.S. had similar programs. Since then, only seven states have publicly acknowledged or apologized for their unethical sterilization and eugenics programs.

“The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy”

by Ruth Padawer, The New York Times, August 10, 2011.

If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control. (

The New York Times released the true story of a woman who chose selective abortion after conceiving twins through in vitro fertilization, and describes the journey that lead to the decision to abort one of her fetuses. The article takes an honest look at the selective abortion procedure as well as its history in the United States.

“Baby-Selling Scam Focuses Attention on Surrogacy”

by Bonnie Rochman, Time Magazine, August 19, 2011.

Court documents lay out a plan that Erickson and Chambers came up with six years ago, before including Neiman in 2008: the women would arrange for surrogates to fly to Ukraine to be impregnated with donor embryos. When the surrogates were about 12 weeks along, the babies would be offered to prospective parents. Once a couple was found, Erickson would file a document in a California court, fraudulently claiming that the surrogacy agreement was in place from the start. (

In what appears to be the first of its kind, the FBI has caught two attorneys in a baby-making scheme. The two attorneys told prospective parents that a previous surrogacy arrangement fell through and offered them a surrogate who was well into her pregnancy. The scam came to light after a surrogate complained to an attorney who then told the FBI that she was already six months pregnant and she had not yet been placed with adoptive parents.

“44 Assisted Suicide Cases since CPS Guidelines Published”

by Robert Winnett and Martin Beckford, The Telegraph, September 3, 2011.

The police have passed a total of 44 files to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) since 2009 in which firm evidence was found which could have led to a prosecution for helping someone end their lives. The crime remains punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. (

New guidelines in Great Britain have clarified that only those who force another to commit suicide can be prosecuted. Since this new ruling more people have come forward who have assisted in the death of another person, but no one has been convicted of a crime. The Crown Prosecution Service suggests that more people are coming forward because of the protection granted under the new guidelines.