Waiting to be born: The ethical implications of the generation of “nuborn” and “nuage” mice from pre-pubertal ovarian tissue
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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American Journal of Bioethics 8 (6):21 – 29 (2008)
Oncofertility is one of the 9 NIH Roadmap Initiatives, federal grants intended to explore previously intractable questions, and it describes a new field that exists in the liminal space between cancer treatment and its sequelae, IVF clinics and their yearning, and basic research in cell growth, biomaterials, and reproductive science and its tempting promises. Cancer diagnoses, which were once thought universally fatal, now often entail management of a chronic disease. Yet the therapies are rigorous, must start immediately, and in many cases result in premature failure of the body's reproductive ability. In women, this loss is especially poignant; unlike the routine storage of sperm, which is done in men and boys facing similar treatment decisions, freezing oocytes in anticipation of fertility loss is not possible in most cases, and creating an embryo within days of diagnosis raises significant moral, social and medical challenges. Oncofertility is the study of how to harvest ovarian tissue in women facing cancer to preserve their gametes for future use with IVF, thus allowing the decisions about childbearing to be deferred and reproductive choices to be preserved. The research endeavor uses the capacity of the ovarian follicle to produce eggs in vitro . Developing the human follicle to ovulate successfully outside the body is scientifically difficult and ethically challenging. Infertility is linked to long-standing religious and moral traditions, and is intertwined with deeply contentious social narratives about women, families, illness and birth. Is the research morally permissible? Perhaps imperative if understood as a repair from iatrogenic harms? How are considerations of justice central to the work? How will vulnerable subjects be protected? What are the moral implications of the work for women, children and families? What are the implications for society if women could store ovarian tissue as a way of stopping the biological clock? What are the moral possibilities and challenges if eggs can be produced in large quantities from a stored ovarian tissue?
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