Monday, June 11, 2018

Who Will Have Access To Advanced Reproductive Technology?

futurism |  In November 2017, a baby named Emma Gibson was born in the state of Tennessee. Her birth, to a 25-year-old woman, was fairly typical, but one aspect made her story unique: she was conceived 24 years prior from anonymous donors, when Emma’s mother was just a year old.  The embryo had been frozen for more than two decades before it was implanted into her mother’s uterus and grew into the baby who would be named Emma.

Most media coverage hailed Emma’s birth as a medical marvel, an example of just how far reproductive technology has come in allowing people with fertility issues to start a family.

Yet, the news held a small detail that gave others pause. The organization that provided baby Emma’s embryo to her parents, the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), has policies that state they will only provide embryos to married, heterosexual couples, in addition to several health requirements. Single women and non-heterosexual couples are not eligible.

In other industries, this policy would effectively be labeled as discriminatory. But for reproductive procedures in the United States, such a policy is completely legal. Because insurers do not consider reproductive procedures to be medically necessary, the U.S. is one of the few developed nations without formal regulations or ethical requirements for fertility medicine. This loose legal climate also gives providers the power to provide or deny reproductive services at will.

The future of reproductive technology has many excited about its potential to allow biological birth for those who might not otherwise have been capable of it. Experiments going on today, such as testing functional 3D-printed ovaries and incubating animal fetuses in artificial wombs, seem to suggest that future is well on its way, that fertility medicine has already entered the realm of what was once science fiction.

Yet, who will have access to these advances? Current trends seem to suggest that this will depend on the actions of regulators and insurance agencies, rather than the people who are affected the most.