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Reproductive Technology: Ethical Issues

The Poles Of The Debate

Because reproductive technology encompasses a wide variety of both goals and techniques, there is no single ethical position held by most thinkers considering its ethics. For many, the central, underlying question is when "personhood" begins, in the life of a fertilized ovum.

The most conservative stance, opposing all interventions in natural procreation and therefore opposing most reproductive methodologies, is adopted by the Roman Catholic Church and a number of other conservative groups, all of whom invoke some variation of Natural Law ethics. The conservative basis of this nonintervention stance is based on granting full respect to the conceptus from the moment of conception, defined as when a sperm penetrates an ovum.

Some methods used to overcome obstacles to childbirth are permitted by many of these groups. Many would not oppose concentrating a sperm sample from a husband whose sperm count was low, nor would they oppose bringing an ovum around a blocked fallopian tube so sperm could reach the ovum within the mother's reproductive tract. They also would not oppose administering medication to enhance ovulation. Each of these methods involves manipulating the sperm or ovum before conception.

Others who assign the beginning of personhood to later stages of development advocate a greater freedom to utilize reproductive technology depending on the ethical merits of specific situations and on the rights of other individuals who are involved. Within this group, a central question is where to draw the boundary between parental freedoms to choose methods of procreation and to influence the characteristics of their child on the one hand, and, on the other, societal interests in protecting the unborn.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 4Reproductive Technology: Ethical Issues - Recoiling From Eugenics, The Poles Of The Debate, Donor Gametes, In Vitro Fertilization And Surrogacy