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Reproductive Technology: Ethical Issues

Donor Gametes

One of the oldest and least controversial reproductive technologies is the use of donor sperm to overcome low sperm count on the part of the male or to avoid inheritance of some genetic condition that the male might pass on to his child. Donation is usually anonymous, but some characteristics of the donor are known.

Ethical issues arising in sperm donation include the extent to which parents have the right to choose desirable characteristics in the genetic father of the child, and the right of the child to eventually learn the identity of the father. Each of these issues has precedent in nonassisted reproduction, since prospective parents do choose their mates, and anonymous parenthood occurs in many adoptions. Payment for the sperm sample is generally low enough that the incentive to donate is not thought to be coercive for the donor, and so is not a significant ethical issue.

Donor ova (eggs) are now sometimes used in combination with in vitro fertilization technology. Women who are unable to ovulate, or whose ova might transmit a genetic condition they do not want to pass on, use this method. Ovum donation poses risks to the donor. Medication usually is given to cause the release of excess ova, and laparoscopy (in which a needle is inserted through the abdomen) is used to retrieve the ova. Reimbursement is higher and can easily become coercive. Large sums of money have been offered to young women at prestigious colleges, and glamorous potential donors have asked for as much as $100,000.

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