“Are you my mummy?”*: Diverse notions of “motherhood” in the IVF era

Back in autumn 2017, I was asked to be a contributor at the Edinburgh Biomedical Ethics Film Festival on the Ethics of Surrogacy. As part of the weekend we watched the 2016 documentary Future Baby, and the 1990 film version of The Handmaid’s Tale.

It was during my preparation for that event that I found myself ruminating on the diverse tasks that constitute being a mother. The anniversary of IVF brings this back into my thoughts.

There are, in essence, three contributions that a mother would naturally make:

  • producing the egg which provides half of the chromosomes for the resulting child (plus nutrients and some other genetic material via the mitochondria),
  • offering the womb in which the baby will develop (whilst receiving both nutrition and epigenetic influence on gene expression), and
  • caring for the infant after birth, and as they grow on to eventually attain their own independence.
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Motherhood can now be subdivided into different roles (cartoon inspired by Morparia original)

These phases could be summarised as the genetic, the gestational and the nurturing dimensions of motherhood (the term “social” is sometimes used in the literature to cover this third category, but I prefer to the notion of nurture). Continue reading

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Can “Synths” and “Posthumans” have Human Rights?

In the recently-finished third season of the intelligent drama Humans [spoiler alert…], the government has set up a Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Dryden to consider the legal status of synthetic robots (Synths). These creatures had become conscious at the end of the previous series (if you want to know more, I do recommend that you watch the box set).

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Mia (Gemma Chan) is a central character in the first three seasons of Humans

Against that backdrop, I was especially interested to read a new paper in the Medical Law Review by David Lawrence and Margaret Brazier. Legally Human? ‘Novel Beings’ and English Law considers ways in which the European Convention on Human Rights and English case law might be brought to bear on the legal status of human-like creatures. The authors favour the description of such beings as “sapient” rather than the more common “sentient”, not least as sentience was famously used by philosopher Jeremy Bentham as justification for broadening protection from suffering to non-human animals.

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Lawrence and Brazier examine three types of entity whose production is scientifically-plausible using existing technologies (whilst acknowledging that other methods might emerge in the future). These creatures are: Continue reading

Avoiding Scientific Misconduct in Prague

I recently spent an excellent few days in Prague, attending the 43rd FEBS Congress, at which I gave a talk about the importance of bioethics teaching, and ran a workshop on developing case studies in ethics teaching. A session on the final morning Scientific (mis)conduct: how to detect (and avoid) bad science illustrated one reason why this is a crucial dimension in the education of scientists.

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I live-tweeted the presentations and organised them at the time within five threads. The post below represents a first attempt to use Thread Reader (@threadreaderapp) which operates a very straightforward “unroll” tool. Following the sad demise of Storify, I was curious to see if this would be a suitable alternative for curation of tweeted content. I have elected to offer both links to the unrolled threads and screenshots of the resulting notes. I’m relatively pleased with the outcome.

Getting back to the content of the session, it proved a really insightful overview of several aspects of research misconduct, and publication ethics. Continue reading