A Philosopher's Blog

Above & Beyond

Posted in Ethics, Medicine/Health, Science by Michael LaBossiere on September 24, 2009

Like most people, I saw the story of the couple who had the wrong embryo implanted by their fertility clinic. Obviously, that was one heck of mistake and indicates that the clinic needs to reassess how it labels and tracks embryos. This does provide a rather extreme example of the sorts of easy to fix errors that can cause so much trouble.

What struck me the most about this story was the fact that the couple decided that the embryo would be brought to term and then given to his/her biological parents. When asked about this, the couple made it clear that their decision was based on their values.

Since I teach ethics, I find this very interesting indeed. Naturally, I also find it interesting as a person. It is, to say the least, morally commendable for the woman to go through this experience knowing that she will be giving up the child. As far as I know, she is not receiving any compensation from the other couple for this. Of course, the fertility clinic certainly owes her for the mistake they made.

This does raise the obvious question: what is the right thing to do in that situation?

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8 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on September 24, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    The only thing to do is nationalize.

  2. PhilosopherP said, on September 25, 2009 at 7:25 am

    I teach ethics as well — and I was fascinated by the situation. What surprised me was the side comment that almost everyone in that situation abort. It seems to me that if your values put you in a fertility clinic, continuing the pregnancy would also be part of your values.

    Also, the birth mother is an accidental surrogate mother, and that’s how she seems to see herself. That seems to be consistent with use of a fertility clinic — even if it wasn’t her intention to be a surrogate.

  3. biomass2 said, on September 25, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Over the course of a nine month pregnancy a woman develops a rather close relationship to the fetus(es) she carries–or so I hear. Yet Carolyn seemed reasonably certain from the beginning that she would be willing to hand over the child. Well. she already has three. . . At least she tried.
    So, because of “their religious beliefs, Carolyn and Sean wanted a fourth child”

    According to articles I’ve read, their decision to follow through with the pregnancy and relinquish the child to the mother was immediate, based on their value system. Unfortunately, I have not been able to discover any reference anywhere to their specific religion. It is ironic,however, that their deep religious beliefs prompted them to pursue a path that, in the eyes of the Holy Catholic Church-the world’s largest Christian group–is deeply “immoral”. The church objects to it for the same reason it objects to embryonic stem cell research. Spilling your stuff on the ground and related issues. The Catholic Church recommends adoption, and one might ask why the couple chose to bypass that route.

    In addition:Did they know the following before they made the decision?


    Presumably they knew how many embryos had been implanted. The father, in an interview on CNN said “they had transferred another couple’s *embryos* to Carolyn” This was probably a conscious choice the couple made to insure the procedure worked.And she surely knew the increased risk to older women of carrying a fetus to term. That risk increases with multiple births. But her biological clock was ticking . This was likely her last chance.

    I know the delivery is almost a done deal here in late September, but, just to make it interesting, let’s alter the events of the last 8+ months a bit.
    a/ Let’s assume that the multiple embryo implants produce multiple fetuses. What will the couple do now?
    b/ Let’s assume the births from these multiple implants are successful. We’ll set aside for the moment the very real possibility that physical problems might arise to complicate the matter– problems, for example, that would require Sean to choose between the well-being of his Carolyn, the fetuses that they’ve already relinquished claim to, and his deep beliefs.

    Now she has one baby to cheerfully hand over to the natural mother and one or more babies to keep for herself.
    c/ Let’s assume it’s more than one. They already have three? Do they want five? Would she put baby 5 up for adoption?

    That didn’t happen.But it could have.

    By now I think you can see why I think it’s important to discover what specific religion the Savages adhere to. It’s a religion, likely quite fundamental, that supports heavy breeding and (unlike Catholicism and some fundamentalist churches) IVF. Does it oppose abortion of all types, including cases of rape, incest, or health of the mother? Has their religion found a verse of support in its bible for IVF over adoption as a means to increase family size?

    Sean and Carolyn Savage. What a “happy” coincidence that I just watched an independent movie, “The Savages” that deals with the other end of life’s arc: The Savages–yep, that’s their name– are siblings who face moral conflicts surrounding the imminent death of their father. Great movie,by the way.

  4. kernunos said, on September 28, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    “By now I think you can see why I think it’s important to discover what specific religion the Savages adhere to.”

    I do not adhere to any religion but I do find carrying to term after conception very important if possible.

    • biomass2 said, on September 29, 2009 at 12:30 pm

      “I do find carrying to term after conception very important if possible.” That’s admirable, and I hope you and your wife adhere to that policy should she, gods forbid, be raped or if her health and well-being were seriously compromised by the process.

      But nothing in the first paragraph has anything to do with my post. I was focusing on the Savages’ initial decision to have the child by IVF. They already have three kids, but the impression from their interviews is that their religion encourages them to have more.

      They chose IVF as means of incresing their brood. And hey bypassed adoption.

      It would be interesting to find a church that places a premium on “upsizing” (if you will) the family but does not insist that adoption should be the first choice if the parents are unable to conceive naturally.

      • kernunos said, on September 29, 2009 at 6:24 pm

        Nothing like the Federal and State Governments placing a premium on ‘upsizing’. Nothing like getting a bigger welfare check for more babies. Hey those will probably be Democrat voters too. At least the Savages will most likely be paying for their own children.

      • biomass2 said, on September 29, 2009 at 9:06 pm

        “At least the Savages will most likely be paying for their own children.”

        If only that were true for all who blindly follow one textual interpretation as they “go forth and multiply”. What if God were merely foretelling (as he often did in other circumstances, or so it is said), the day when computers would be available and we could all,indeed, go forth and multiply. . .and divide. . .etc.” 🙂

        Unfortunately, those people, like the young and uninformed, or those with poor or no parental guidance, continue to grow the welfare state. Abstinence only, anyone? Texas knows how that works. So the answer is what?


        Many more potential ‘adopters'(600k) than ‘adoptees’. Yet ,”We have found that for every 1,000 people who call a public child welfare agency seeking to adopt, only 36 do so.” 3.6%********

        Their principal reason? “Far too many agencies view their primary response in adoption as screening out “bad” parents rather than recruiting good ones.”
        I don’t see a conflict there. In fact I think the process should favor the child, even if it renders the process more difficult. We don’t need to hear more/any horror stories of mistreated foster care and adopted children, do we?

        ********That’s a curious coincidence,but on an obviously unrelated subject: An article I was was reading today states that an Archbishop Tomasi indicates that 1.5%-5% is the church’s estimate of the number of Catholic clergy involved in child sex abuse. 3.6% percent nestles neatly within that range, so I thought I’d mention it. 🙂

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