The accidental swapping of children conceived through IVF procedures before implantation, which recently occurred in Italy, points to the moral pitfalls surrounding artificial reproduction, some ethicists say.
Brendan Foht, assistant editor of the bioethics journal “The New Atlantis”, told CNA that “this kind of mix-up is just the sort of thing that is liable to happen when you have human life being made and stored in the lab.”
On Aug. 8, the Turin daily La Stampa reported that an Italian woman identified only as Francesca had successfully delivered two children and was “very happy.” The children, she explained, had been registered as hers, as Italian law states that whoever gives birth to a child is its mother.
However, while she delivered the children, Francesca and her husband are not the children’s biological parents: on Dec. 4, 2013 both Francesca and the children’s biological mother underwent fertility treatment to implant embryos at a hospital in Rome.
The two couples’ children were mixed up during the procedure – the wrong children were implanted in each mother's womb – and while one set of twins successfully implanted and led to Francesca’s successful pregnancy, the biological mother’s IVF pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
The genetic parents were identified through DNA testing earlier this year.
The twin’s genetic parents have said that while Italian law is does not currently grant them parenthood rights, they will challenge the case “at all the legal levels.”
Foht said that this mix up “is just the sort of thing that is liable to happen when you have human life being made and stored in the lab,” and should offer an opportunity to question the creation and storage of human persons in IVF clinics.
He explained that the swapping of embryos is, in fact, not uncommon as a service “regularly chosen by couples at IVF clinics.”
Couples, Foht said, will donate “spare” embryos to other couples, “leading to the deliberate, rather than accidental, distinction between a child’s birth parents and her genetic parents.”
Through these practices, he noted, parenthood “is divorced from any natural facts, and becomes a matter of choice for the parties involved.”
Given the acceptance of these practices, it seems that this case is controversial “not because children are being born to women who are not their genetic mothers, or because genetic parenthood has been deliberately separated from social and even gestational parenthood, but because the IVF customers have not gotten what they have paid for.”
“So, when people look at this story and rightly see it as quite outrageous that we have uncertainty and legal conflicts over who the real parents of these children are,” Foht said, “we should also consider how the practices of assisted reproduction technology necessarily lead to questions about who will be the parents of embryos created in IVF clinics.”