To celebrate the 100th This Week in Bioethics (TWIB), Jennifer and I did a 10 minute Facebook live version of TWIB!

1. How Many?

How many? This was Jennifer’s simple question in her testimony before the Washington State House Judiciary Committee yesterday morning. How many women . . . how many children . . . how many must be harmed before surrogacy is stopped?

I’ve put together a post summarizing the situation in Washington State and pointing to a number of resources for understanding surrogacy and engaging the arguments that are put forward in defense of it. Please give it a careful read, and be sure to watch Jennifer’s two Washington State testimonies, which are embedded in the post (and available here and here).

Also, if you haven’t signed the Stop Surrogacy Now statement, please do so today. The more names we put on this petition, the more weight we will put behind efforts to abolish (rather than regulate) surrogacy. TIA!


2. There are no Safeguards

A doctor has resigned from Belgium’s euthanasia commision over concerns about the death of a dementia patient.

Some experts say the case as documented in the letter amounts to murder; the patient lacked the mental capacity to ask for euthanasia and the request for the bedridden patient to be killed came from family members. The co-chairs of the commission say the doctor mistakenly reported the death as euthanasia.

Euthanasia — the direct killing of a patient by a physician — has been legal in Belgium since 2002. In that time, 10,000+ people have been killed by euthanasia, but only a single case has been handed over to prosecutors as problematic. Only one. The idea that only one of 10,000+ cases has prosecution-worthy problems strains belief, to put it mildly. It seems clear that there really are no safeguards.

This is exactly what people mean when they talk about a slippery slope with assisted suicide and euthanasia.

3. Nothing to Lose?

James Wilson, a doctor involved in what turned out to be a deadly genetic therapy trial in the 1990s, recently issued a strong warning that applies well beyond genetics:

“It would be very naïve for our community to assume we won’t have toxic effects,” he says. “People get comfortable, saying, ‘Hey, let’s do it—there is nothing lose.’ Well, it’s out there waiting. But when it’s going to happen, why it’s going to happen—nobody knows.“

Well said! Each week, it seems, we receive news of a new development in a wide variety of fields. For example, our friend Wesley Smith responds to news of the creation of a sheep-human hybrid embryo by writing:

The point I keep trying to make isn’t that we should shut down all of this research, but that we need to have an intense discussion about how to best ensure it doesn’t wander into unethical fields.

Moreover, Smith points out, we need to discuss and refine our notions of what is ethical and what is unethical.

How well are the effects of new developments being considered? How far-reaching are the possible consequences? How certain are we that “there is nothing to lose”? Or might we be better served by taking time to consider carefully and fully the ramifications of new developments and whether they truly represent advancements rather than simply changes?

4. Wealth and Class

Thailand’s courts have awarded custody of 13 children who were born via surrogacy to the Japanese man who commissioned and paid for their births. Mitsutoki Shigeta has been embroiled in what the Thai media have dubbed a “baby factory” scandal since 2014, when it was discovered he was paying a team of nannies to care for the nine infants in a Bangkok apartment.

In the end, awarding custody to Mr. Shigeta hinged on his wealth: Thai officials determined that he had the assets needed to afford raising 13 children.

While this is an extreme case (in many, many ways), it fits the pattern we see again and again in surrogacy: those of fewer means are surrogate mothers, those with abundant means are the commissioning parents.

5. Woman Becomes Grandmother With Dead Son’s Preserved Semen

After her son’s death, a mother, “having a desire to get back her son” used her son’s previously cryopreserved semen and now has twin grandchildren. Although many are claiming this is a heartwarming story, it in fact raises a number of ethical issues. Of course there are all the concerns of of egg donation and surrogacy, and in addition: Did the deceased son consent to this? What will the future look like for these children conceived after the death of their father? What, if anything, will they know about the egg donor who is their biological mother? What will happen to the twins if the grandmother is unable to continue raising them due to age-related health issues?


This is the 100th edition or issue of This Week in Bioethics (TWIB). You can see all of the previous TWIBs, which stretch back to January of 2015, at this link. We generally publish a TWIB each Friday, so be sure to look for it on our website and all our social media outlets.



This Week in Bioethics Archive

Image by kittykatfish via flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)