Not Inconceivable

Amid a growing range of reproductive technologies, ethicists confront questions arising from access and application

Ethics | Autumn 2016
Harvard Medicine Magazine
By Elizabeth Cooney

Louise King shakes her head as she considers her title at the HMS Center for Bioethics: director of reproductive ethics. Who, she asks, could presume to direct such a multidimensional field?

A recent morning at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center offers a glimpse into one of the field’s dimensions as King, who also is an HMS assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Beth Israel Deaconess, makes her way to an ethics committee discussion about a particular couple’s request. As the parents of a seriously ill child, the couple hoped for assistance in selecting an embryo that would become the best match for their child, who, barring a bone marrow transplant from a compatible donor, had a poor prognosis. In short, they wanted help conceiving a “savior sibling.”

The technology that could help them is one of several collectively referred to as assisted reproductive technologies, ART for short. And while ART can make babies, it cannot say who should have them. 

Neither can ethics committees, which helps explain King’s wonderment at all that her title represents. Bioethicists and clinicians like King and her colleagues see themselves as educators, explaining the medical consequences of certain decisions and providing a prism through which these learners and teachers try to refract the future.

Read the full article at Harvard Medicine Magazine