Unconventional combinations of prospective parents: ethical challenges faced by IVF providers

Klitzman, Robert L.

Professional guidelines have addressed ethical dilemmas posed by a few types of nontraditional procreative arrangements (e.g., gamete donations between family members), but many questions arise regarding how providers view and make decisions about these and other such arrangements.

Thirty-seven ART providers and 10 patients were interviewed in-depth for approximately 1 h each. Interviews were systematically analyzed.

Providers faced a range of challenges and ethical dilemmas concerning both the content and the process of decisions about requests for unconventional interfamilial and other reproductive combinations. Providers vary in how they respond — what they decide, who exactly decides (e.g., an ethics committee or not), and how — often undergoing complex decision-making processes. These combinations can involve creating or raising the child, and can shift over time — from initial ART treatment through to the child’s birth. Patients’ requests can vary from fully established to mere possibilities. Arrangements may also be unstable, fluid, or unexpected, posing challenges. Difficulties emerge concerning not only familial but social, combinations (e.g., between friends). These arrangements can involve blurry and confusing roles, questions about the welfare of the unborn child, and unanticipated and unfamiliar questions about how to weigh competing moral and scientific concerns — e.g., the autonomy of the individuals involved, and the potential risks and benefits. Clinicians may feel that these requests do not “smell right”; and at first respond with feelings of “yuck,” and only later, carefully and explicitly consider the ethical principles involved. Proposed arrangements may, for instance, initially be felt to involve consanguineous individuals, but not in fact do so. Obtaining and verifying full and appropriate informed consent can be difficult, given implicit familial and/or cultural expectations and senses of duty. Social attitudes are changing, yet patients’ views of these issues may also vary, based on their cultural backgrounds.

These data, the first to examine how clinicians make decisions about unconventional reproductive arrangements, highlight several critical ethical questions and ambiguities, and variations in clinicians’ responses. While several professional guidelines exist, the current data highlight additional challenges, and have vital implications for improving future guidelines, practice, education and research.

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Also Published In

BMC Medical Ethics

More About This Work

Academic Units
Published Here
November 9, 2017


Keywords: Fertilization, in vitro, Reproduction, Infertility, Ethics, Policy, Decision making, Gamete donation, Families, Discrimination