News Roundup #3: Reproductive tourism, beating heart transplants, lower leukemia survival rates for minorities

Pay per surrogate. Photograph by Brian Carpenter/Hemera/Thinkstock. Source: Slate

Surrogacy and reproductive tourism

Check out this fascinating and extraordinarily well-researched article on Slate about reproductive tourism by Douglas Pet from the Center for Genetics and Society.  This piece was a year in the making, and the investigative work done is impressive. Highly recommended for anyone who is also interested in commodification of the body, trafficking, and/or where practices of surrogacy and donation may align or diverge. The article covers surrogacy primarily through its reportage on the fairly unsettling dealings of California-based surrogacy broker PlanetHospital. It brings up some really important issues like surrogates’ rights (or lack thereof), which include similar concerns to donor rights, as well as the global inequalities at play in medical tourism. It also addresses women’s reproductive health, and reveals misconceptions (no pun intended) about safest practices in relation to surrogate abortions and delivery by C-section.

New reproductive technologies are not subject to as many regulatory controls as organ donation, for example, as was also highlighted in our own post on Asian egg donors.  However, there are many that argue there needs to be more regulation to prevent some serious ethical missteps, including this article.

Here are some choice tidbits to whet your readerly appetite.

A preamble challenging the wholesale positive press surrogacy has received:

But make no mistake: This is first and foremost a business. And the product this business sells—third-party pregnancy—is now being offered with all sorts of customizable options, guarantees, and legal protections for clients (aka would-be parents).

On the treatment of surrogates:

The version of the packet that PlanetHospital sent me in July assures clients that each surrogate is “well looked after.” Surrogates spend “the entire duration of the pregnancy at the clinic or a guest house controlled by the clinic” where their habits, medications, and diets are carefully regimented and monitored.

Regarding the option to implant multiple surrogates:

Of course, this approach could also leave a couple with multiple babies, possibly gestating in multiple women. Until recently, if both surrogates became pregnant—or if either surrogate became pregnant with twins—clients could opt to have the extra pregnancy aborted or twins reduced to a singleton, depending on how many babies the clients wanted or decided they could afford.

On the compelling reasons for touristic surrogacy:

It would appear, then, that Western surrogacy brokers benefit by looking across borders not just because it allows them to locate cheap “labor” but also because some arrangements may face less legal scrutiny than they would in the United States. Moss confirmed that legal differences between the two countries make India an attractive location for surrogacy. “In the United States, in many cases, there will be surrogates all of a sudden saying that they want to keep the baby,” he said, “In India it’s all contractual.”

Read the full article here.

Boston Globe reports on the growing hopes for beating heart transplants in the U.S.  Currently doctors are conducting

a clinical trial testing a machine that circulates blood in the donor’s heart, and keeps it beating in a transparent plastic case after removal. A computerized control system monitors the heart’s metabolism, blood pressure, and electrical state. More than 40 patients in the United States have participated in the trial so far.

Eventually, doctors speculate, the device, made by an Andover company, will keep hearts in good condition longer than four hours, meaning that they could be transported farther and that more donor hearts could be used. Now, about half of hearts from potential donors go unused, either because the donor is too far from a matching recipient or because of abnormalities in the heart.

Racial disparities are evident in clinical outcomes, as research shows leukemia survival rates are lower for minority patients.  Clinical Oncology reports on the Stanford University study.

‘It’s not clear from this study why these disparities exist,’ Dr. Smith said. ‘Whether they are a result of differences in access to care, quality of care or treatment response, demographic characteristics or biological differences, these are all possible reasons that need to be examined in future research.’

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