A Summary of Key Points from Submission to Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology [ACART] on the Use of Frozen Eggs in Fertility Treatment
Staff of The Nathaniel Centre
A Catholic approach to the transmission of human life is characterised by two key beliefs: the dignity of the human person and, flowing from that, a belief that the context in which humans are conceived, and the means used, must reflect this dignity. The conjugal act is seen as the only means that is wholly consistent with the dignity of the human child. The use of technology in human reproduction is assessed as upholding the dignity of the human person to the extent that it assists but does not replace the conjugal act.
What ethical issues are relevant to using frozen eggs in fertility treatment?
The freezing of human embryos is always to be regarded as an affront to their innate dignity in so far as it suspends, and puts at risk, the inviolable right to life that is theirs. While not condoning IVF, we recognise that the technology which allows eggs to be frozen and stored might mean there are fewer embryos that are frozen and stored. Therefore, we are not opposed to the use of frozen eggs on the basis that we believe it may limit the harm that is associated with the storage and subsequent discarding of human embryos that is a characteristic of IVF infertility programmes.
At the same time we remain particularly concerned that this technology might lead to a significant increase in women postponing pregnancy for "social reasons". We note that ACART considers the freezing of eggs as "at best a backstop measure for those who are at risk of losing their fertility altogether, and that it would be unwise for women to rely on egg freezing for social reasons". We agree with this assessment for reasons that include, but go beyond, the obvious clinical contraindications of egg freezing. We would like to see this procedure limited to those requiring it for "medical" reasons as opposed to "social" reasons.
The posthumous use of frozen eggs raises similar ethical issues to the posthumous use of frozen sperm. We regard the use of assisted human reproductive technologies in such circumstances as inconsistent with the dignity of the child, because it intentionally deprives them of a relationship with a mother and a father for reasons that ultimately amount to the satisfaction of adult needs.
A Catholic approach to marriage, emphasising as it does the connection between the conjugal act and the transmission of human life, also rules out for moral reasons the reception of gametes from a third party.
Should the freezing of eggs become an established procedure?
While it is stated that "the risks to a resulting child associated with the use of frozen eggs are no greater than the risks associated with the use of frozen embryos or [IVF] generally" we also note that there have only been a relatively low number of children born from frozen eggs and that "it is still a relatively new technique". Therefore, while the available evidence may point to its safety, it has to be accepted that "a lack of data on outcomes for children born from eggs that have previously been frozen" means this technology remains largely experimental.
On that basis it seems premature to be declaring this an established procedure. It is our considered view, that for the time being, the use of frozen eggs for fertility treatment should occur against a background of ethical and medical oversight provided by a specialist Health Research Ethics Committee. There needs to be ongoing collection of data so as to better assess the outcomes and risks associated with the use of previously frozen eggs.
Should frozen eggs be able to be donated to others for use in fertility treatment?
Our reasons for arguing that the use of frozen eggs should be limited to the individuals they come from are the same reasons we use to argue against the donation of any gametes by a third party; the mutual and exclusive self-giving of the spouses that characterises the permanent and loving commitment at the heart of marriage calls forth a reciprocal respect that means couples recognise the right to become parents only through each other.
Should frozen eggs be able to be donated for research purposes?
We uphold the principle enshrined in New Zealand legislation and culture that transactions involving body tissue not be commercialised. On that basis, we see no reason to oppose the donation of eggs for ethical research projects. We remain concerned about the very real potential for the exploitation of women that would result from an increased demand for human eggs for purposes unrelated to fertility treatment.
We oppose all research using frozen eggs to create a human embryo. We are also opposed to all research involving the fusion of human gametes with gametes of other species so as to create human-animal hybrid embryos.
Staff of the Nathaniel Centre – July 2008