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The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization

NPR,  Oct 4, 2010
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NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Jeff Kahn, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, about the ethics of in vitro fertilization.


In 1978, the phrase in-vitro fertilization was something the experts said. The rest of the world spoke of test-tube babies. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers invoked Aldous Huxley's image of baby hatcheries in his dystopian novel "Brave New World."

Jeffrey Kahn directs the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota Medical School. And, Jeffrey Kahn, have four million births through IVF trumped all the moral and ethical questions that were posed by the procedure?

Dr. JEFFREY KAHN (Director, Center for Bioethics): I think at the outset there was such concern about the new and uncertain technology that this proposed that people were quite afraid. But four million births later, those early issues went away, but new ones certainly came in the aftermath.

SIEGEL: As for the old issues, though, I mean, there were concerns of the potential eugenic consequences of IVF, that it wouldn't just help people who couldn't conceive, but it would help people who couldn't conceive with the kind of mate they would like to conceive. That, I guess, is part of life today.

Dr. KAHN: Absolutely. And I think that technology has evolved in ways that have brought some of those concerns to light so we can now test embryos outside of the body and make decisions about which ones to implant based upon the results of those tests. And that's what people were fearful of in 1978. The technology just didn't exist until well into the 1990s.

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