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article imageFive Year Old Mothers - Medical Team In Israel Sparks Ethical Questions

By Michelle Duffy     Jul 2, 2007 in Health
Again, one of those ethical questions pops up in the name of science and human medicine. Is extracting the eggs from five year old girls really an achievement even if it is the answer to the future fertility?
In Israel, a team of scientists have come up with the solution to childhood cancers, but not the prevention of them or even a cure, but for the question of infertility should it occur for these children due to a serious illness in early life such as cancer. Research has allowed them to discover that if eggs can be extracted from girls as young as five years old, they can then be matured in special conditions and then frozen should they be needed in later life.
For me, this poses a question. What is the importance of their future babies when cancers are effecting children now? Surely the real achievement here for medical science would be to find a way of preventing or even stamping out childhood cancers for good, rather than skip the idea, treat the poor children when they do fall seriously ill, then give them some eggs for the future to make up for it.
However backward this research may seem, the team feel that they can give youngsters a shot at being parents even after they are affected by childhood cancers such as leukemia, especially when they have to under go the dreadful chemotherapy for treatment.
Eggs have already been taken from girls in the Middle Eastern country between the ages of five and ten who have cancer.
These eggs have been matured and frozen so that should these girls be affected by the chemotherapy so much that it makes them infertile, their eggs can be used in later life for they can become mothers should they chose.
Dr Ariel Revel, from Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, has already arrived at a fertility conference in France this week to present the results. He said of the results so far,
"No eggs have yet been thawed, so we do not know whether pregnancies will result. But we are encouraged by our results so far, particularly the young ages of the patients from whom we have been able to collect eggs."
So far, childhood cancers don't take as many lives as we believe. Doctors say that many children face a 70% - 90% survival rate from leukemia. However, chemotherapy is severe, especially on a child so this tends to mean that the child becomes sterile in later life.
So far, doctors have only experimented using ovarian tissue in girls in this way, yet it is thought that the tissue can still carry cancerous cells - eggs do not come with such a threat.
Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, at the Bridge Fertility Centre in London gave us his view on the work. He said,
"This is very important because this is the first time that human eggs have undergone changes in the test-tube which normally take place during puberty."
As you may have guessed this work has awoken certain ethical issues which have since been taken up by many experts on such subjects. One of these experts who wishes to ask further questions on the subject of right and wrong is Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics. She is concerned that this frozen egg idea will lead to children bearing children. She said,
"Are we going to end up with a child who has a mother who is just six years older? What happens if the child dies? Could the eggs be donated to someone else? I don't think this is the first priority for five year olds. Any intervention for a child going through cancer treatment is an added burden. I feel uncomfortable about this development"
We may feel that she has a point, if we taken into account that these eggs are still coming from a five year old girl, say, it doesn't matter if they are matured - a girl could donate them, meaning a baby could have a biological mother who is only five years older....
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