Illustration of a pregnant Muslim woman in a hijab sitting cross-legged in front of plants

Egg Freezing Permissible in Islam, According to Egypt’s Dar Al-Ifta

By Sarah Alawi

Dar Al-Ifta, Egypt’s Islamic body, issued a statement earlier this month on the legality of egg freezing under Islamic law following a controversial Facebook post by an Egyptian woman, Reem Mahana, on her decision to freeze her eggs.

Mahana said she froze her eggs for “the simple reason” that she wants to build a family when the time is right: “I cannot guarantee when exactly I will get married… I totally reject the idea of getting married to any man [only] to have a child.”

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Black and white photograph of adult holding a baby's hand

On the Tyranny of Partners in Posthumous Reproduction Cases

By Shelly Simana

The topic of posthumous reproduction has produced great interest globally due to the fundamental dilemmas it raises. The most controversial cases are the ones in which there is no explicit consent on behalf of the deceased person for using his or her gametes after death. In those cases, courts try to trace the presumed intentions of the deceased person, heavily relying on testimonies of the deceased’s family members and friends.

I recently published an article about this topic, in which I advocate for a more permissive approach toward posthumous reproduction. In this blog post, I would like to focus on a particular issue—the permission for the deceased’s partner, but not the parents, to engage in posthumous reproduction.

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Photograph of surrogate showing parents-to-be ultrasound pictures

What happens when assisted reproductive technology agreements break down?

By Sarah Alawi

My name is Sarah Alawi; I’m an LLM Student at Harvard Law School, from New Zealand. I am excited to contribute to the Petrie-Flom Blog as a Petrie-Flom Student Fellow. My area of interest is assisted reproductive technology (ART), although I intend to use this forum to write on a broad range of medico-legal issues in the bioethics sphere. This post introduces my specific research interest in ART disputes, and concludes with a recommendation for anyone considering ART.

ART is a growth industry and yet, despite the sophistication of new birth technologies, its use depends on functioning human relationships. Commonly, parties try to define these relationships using pre-conception ART agreements. During my fellowship at the Petrie-Flom Center, I intend to write a thesis on what should happen, in terms of the parties’ rights at law, when three common forms of ART agreements break down:

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Man and woman on holding hands on a couch, pictured from the neck down

What Happens When Reproductive Tech Like IVF Goes Awry?

It sounds like the setup to a bad joke: Three couples walk into a fertility clinic. But the punch line—what happened to those families at one Los Angeles medical facility in August 2018—is no laughing matter. The embryos from two couples hoping to conceive were mistakenly implanted into a third patient. That third woman and her husband, both of Korean descent, suspected that something was amiss when their two newborns didn’t look anything like them.

DNA testing confirmed that Baby A and Baby B (as court documents called them) weren’t genetically related to either of the birth parents, or to each other—they were related to two other couples who had been seeking fertility treatments at the same clinic. The birth parents were forced to give up their “twins” to their respective genetic parents.

The other two couples, while granted the surprise of children they thought they’d never have, missed out on the experience of pregnancy and early bonding. One of the women explained her sense of loss: “I wasn’t there for his birth, I did not carry him, I did not feel him kick inside of me, I didn’t do the skin to skin, I didn’t breastfeed him.” The mix-up at CHA Fertility Clinic leaves all three couples bereft. They’re left to wonder what happened to their other embryos, and to worry whether their biological children might be born to someone else without them ever knowing.

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A Professional In Vitro Fertilisation Laboratory Microscope Closeup - Image

How Technology is Changing Reproduction and the Law

Millions of Americans rely on the likes of birth control, IVF, and genetic testing to make plans as intimate and far-reaching as any they ever make. This is no less than the medicine of miracles. It fills empty cradles, frees families from terrible disease, and empowers them to fashion their lives on their own terms. But every year, thousands of accidents happen: Pharmacists mix up pills. Lab techs misread tests. Obstetricians tell women their healthy fetuses would be stillborn. These mistakes can’t be chalked up to reasonable slips of hand or lapses in judgment as often as human failures and flawed quality controls. Read More

An embryologist pulls out of the dewar with liquid nitrogen straws with frozenn embryos and egg cells in infertility treatment clinic - Image

The Legal Limbo of Lost Embryos

Last summer, a group of cancer survivors and others struggling to have children held a memorial service for their “hopes and dreams lost.” That’s the message they had engraved on a bench in the Ohio cemetery where these would-be-parents-who-won’t mourned.

More than 4,000 of their frozen embryos and eggs were destroyed when a high-capacity freezer tank failed at University Hospitals Fertility Center in Cleveland one Saturday in early March 2018. Another thousand were lost the same weekend, after a similar malfunction at an unrelated clinic across the country, Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco.

Some of those affected had made appointments to try to initiate pregnancies the very next week. All had undergone painful procedures and paid, in some cases, thousands of dollars to keep their materials suspended in liquid nitrogen at a constant −196°C. But that weekend in March, tank temperatures began rising, and by the time the Ohio lab technicians returned for their next shift, everything inside had thawed beyond rescue or repair. It’s not clear why remote alarms were turned off; investigations are ongoing. So far, only coordinated cyberattacks have been ruled out. Read More

Laboratory IVF petri dish under a microscope.

Fertility Fraud: Major Developments in Texas, Idaho, and Indiana

By Jody Lyneé Madeira

Spring of 2019 brought flowers, showers…and many updates on the “fertility fraud” front.

Perhaps the biggest developments are on the legislative front. On May 5, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 174 into law, creating civil and criminal causes of action for fertility fraud for former patients and their offspring (and donors whose gametes were used in an unconsented-to manner).

Plaintiffs who sue in tort can be reimbursed for the costs of the fertility procedure and $10,000 in damages. The act makes it a level 6 felony to make a misrepresentation involving human reproductive material and a medical procedure, medical device, or drug. Read More

ancestry dna kit box

Gamete Donor Anonymity is a Myth: Q&A With Seema Mohapatra

By some accounts, 26 million people have undergone direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic or ancestry tests. While some of the results of these tests seem might seem obvious (I turned out to be half-Hungarian and half-Ashkenazi, to no one’s surprise), there have been a number of accounts in the media of test results that have been considerably more dramatic.

Some of the more shocking — and now shockingly common — scenarios are the ones in which a consumer finds out through a DTC test that they were donor-conceived, and that one or both of the parents who raised them are not their genetic relatives. Gamete donors, who often provide genetic material (eggs or sperm) with the promise of anonymity, are finding themselves the recipients of messages from genetic children they never intended to meet.

Gamete donors could argue that they have a right to privacy. But Prof. Seema Mohapatra suggests the idea of gamete donor privacy is no longer realistic, due to the state of genetic technology.

I sat down with Prof. Mohapatra to learn more about the many ethical and legal questions DTC genetic testing raises for donors, recipients, and clinics.

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image of a genetic screen

How Might we Approach Discussions on the Implications of Using Genetic Data from a Human Rights or Social Justice Perspective?

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Jonathan Chernoguz

To complement the Petrie-Flom Center’s annual conference this year, Consuming Genetics, the Global Health and Rights Project at Petrie-Flom (GHRP) convened a small meeting of feminists, students, and other activists. On May 16, Harvard University’s Global Health Education and Learning Incubator , which co-sponsors GHRP, hosted the forum in conjunction with Marcy Darnovsky and Katie Hasson of Center for Genetics and Society (CGS).

Focusing on “Gene Editing, Ethics, Rights and Health Equity Issues,” and in particular the irrevocability of germline gene editing, the meeting began with Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of CGS asking, “How might we begin the discussion from [the perspective of] human rights, feminism, equity, and social justice, rather than from the science and biotechnology?”

This question echoed some of those posed during the Consuming Genetics conference, for example, by Jonathan Kahn in interrogating the equivocation of social diversity and empirical diversity in genomic research.  Read More

child pictured from the back holding both parents' hands.

Baby Not on Board: Must Children Born Through Illicit Insemination Be Barred From Recovery?

By Jody Lyneé Madeira

A new reproductive technology case type is forcing state and federal courts to answer a difficult question: can a fertility doctor be sued for medical malpractice by a biological child whom he conceives in secret through artificial insemination, substituting his sperm for an anonymous donor’s without consent?

Shockingly, one court has now answered this question in the negative, finding that the donor-conceived child couldn’t have been the physician’s “patient” prior to conception.

This gravely unjust ruling allows doctors to deny responsibilities to the very children they were paid to help create. But there are ways to avoid these outcomes, both in existing case law and legislative remedies. Read More