Advances in medical science give us an ever-increasing mastery of our “natural” reproductive processes. Technologies for controlling our fertility, diagnosing and treating the fetus, and allowing premature neonates to complete their development ex-utero challenge our traditional ideas of parenthood, family and even personal identity. The economic, emotional, and socio-cultural costs of these medical advances are very high. In addition, a myriad of ethical and legal questions are raised by the possibilities and permutations created by the new reproductive technologies. The course begins with an overview of the natural reproduction in humans and the issues surrounding biomedical interventions in that process. Focus will then turn to the issues surrounding the control of infertility; fetal life, and the neonatal period.
In October 2012, an announcement about recent developments in our use of reproductive technology is creating one of the biggest challenges to our traditional ideas of parenthood, family, and our personal identity to date. Two independent research groups (one in US and on in England) successfully altered the genes in human eggs, effectively “changing genes across generations” or germ line gene therapy. While no human babies have resulted from these genetically modified eggs, monkeys have been born after modifying their mother’s eggs. The question for the class this semester is: Should we move forward and create human babies from genetically modified eggs? What are the risks and benefits if this happens? What are the clinical, ethical, and legal dilemmas that will result? The class will consider these questions with the goal of developing digital responses. Prior to tackling the final question. Three teams focused on existing reproductive technologies and the issues surrounding these technologies. As they researched the history of the development of the technologies (January – March), they explored the following questions: What technologies were developed that led to the manipulation of the egg genome? What risks, costs, and benefits were (are) associated with each technology? What ethical issues arose when each new reproductive technology was introduced? What laws or legal precedents were made to regulate the use of reproductive technologies?
At the end of the semester, each team presented its conclusions in a digital format. Links to each final project are found at the following links:
Team 1 – Assisted Reproductive Technology
Team 2 – Genetic Screening and Diagnosis
Team 3 – Genetic Engineering and Gene Therapy