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Skip to 0 minutes and 0 seconds I guess the way that I think about it initially is to think how should we respond to this sort of situation? So we see this growing technology being used. It is being used more widely. It is becoming more widely known. So the way I would see it is you probably have four options in how you could proceed in response to it. And one thing you could do is you could prohibit it. So you could simply say we are not permitting that all. The practice isn’t allowed. Women can’t access this technology at all. The other option at the other end of the spectrum is you could ignore it and just have no law. And leave it as a free for all.

Skip to 0 minutes and 26 seconds So what that effectively means is you permit it but you permit it in a way that is unregulated. The third thing you could do is you could regulate access. So you could decide who could have access to it or how they could get access to it. But you would still let everyone have access in the sense that you would just make them go through a process with counselling or something like that. And the fourth option, which is quite similar, is you could restrict access and say only certain parties who meet particular criteria can have access to it. And that is what we do with things like PGD at the moment.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds Only certain people in certain categories are allowed to use this technology for particular reasons. So the way I come to my conclusions about it are, I think you need to think about a number of things you want from a legal solution and also think about fundamentally why you can justify involving yourself and the law in people’s lives. So to my mind the first thing you need is there is no point in having a legal solution you really can’t enforce. So if it’s something where you really cant do that, then there’s no point having a law that’ll say you’ll do it. So, sometimes people talk about discrimination in the way that we deal with people having access to fertility treatments.

Skip to 1 minute and 32 seconds Why don’t we treat all people the same way? The reason is you can’t go into people’s bedrooms and police what they do so you have to bare that in mind. This is an area that you can prevent it, the way you do that is you prevent labs offering services and you don’t licence them under the HFEA, so you can restrict access that way. So we could protect-, stop the practice in certain ways. We could not permit it in certain ways. But I also think, you have to bare in mind when it is reasonable and when it is permissible to infringe on peoples liberty?

Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds So If you think about people ‘Mills - harm principle’ and you think we should only infringe on peoples liberty legally when there’s a harm to someone else, and otherwise we should stay out of peoples business and we let them do as they wish. That’s one way to think about it, but you might also think that perhaps the law has a bigger role and its role is to promote choices for people that help them to flourish.

Skip to 2 minutes and 21 seconds And I am inclined to think the later; I think there’s a bit more to it than simply just staying out of people’s lives, I think that the law is a force for good and we should do is help to nudge people towards choices that make their lives go well. And so what I reason for that is we should permit it but we should regulate access but I don’t think we should restrict access. We should just make sure women are provided with the right sorts of information, they might have cooling off periods, get counselling whatever it is. Make sure they understand what it is they are getting into but then they make the choice for themselves.

Skip to 2 minutes and 53 seconds Yes so I don’t think the risks of harm here are sufficiently great. So it’s true that as an insurance policy it doesn’t always pay out, it has between a 5-20% success rate lets say, at the most it’s about 20% in the best case. That’s not particularly good odds but the harm that women may suffer if it doesn’t go well for them, is substantial but relative to harms in other context where we don’t prevent them from doing things, it isn’t greater than that. It is not greater than the risk of a surgery that might go wrong, in the sense that you might have a risky surgery to save your life and you might take that risk.

Skip to 3 minutes and 28 seconds People can go bungee jumping, they can go horse riding, these things can end in their deaths, paralysis all sorts of risks. People can ride bicycles and we allow them to do that, this to me relative to those harms isn’t greater than them and those things are permitted. So even just from a coherency and consistency point of view it should be fine. But more importantly I think it’s for individual women, to make decisions for themselves about the kinds of risks they want to run with their fertility. They can decide for themselves what is more important. Do they put it off and take the risk?

Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds That they wont have a child, but that if it plays out well for them, they will have a child in a context with which they’re happy? And if they don’t think that that’s the right risk for them then they should have their children earlier if they can, and there’s ways in which they can do whether that means they can use donor sperm or having it slightly earlier with their current partner than they might have wanted to but that’s for them to decide. And I think it’s particularly important in this context to let women decide it for themselves, because of the personal nature of reproduction.

Skip to 4 minutes and 28 seconds No one else can tell you how important having children is for you because it is subjective and therefore women are better placed to make the decisions for themselves than the state is to make that decision for them, if anybody knows best, what’s good for this women its probably its this women herself. And that’s why I think fundamentally she is the one who should be allowed to choose.

Egg freezing and reproductive freedom

Although egg freezing is prone to false advertising and there might be reasons to be concerned about the introduction of egg freezing as an incentive in the work place, women also have the right to make their own decisions about their reproductive lives.

Imogen Goold is an Australian legal scholar and academic based at the University of Oxford. Here we meet up with her at St Anne’s College, Oxford, to ask her about the role of rights and harms when it comes to social egg freezing.

At the outset, Imogen Goold lays out four options for how society and the law could tackle egg freezing:

1 - Egg freezing could be illegal.

2 - The state could ignore the practice, with no or very minimal regulation.

3 - Access could be regulated, though open for all if they comply with certain requirements.

4 - Access could be restricted to certain parties or to women in certain circumstances, as is done currently with preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a technology discussed in more detail in Week 5.

The basis of Imogen’s thinking in this area is her commitment to reproductive autonomy, a fundamental notion that we covered our initial ethics glossary. On this view, part of respecting a person means respecting the choices they make.

However, the law also has a protective dimension. In the case of companies offering egg freezing, there might be scope for the law addressing some workplace practices that might result in exploitative situations. And so we need to balance the potential impact of rights and harms, in this case.

Imogen’s view is that if there is pressure on women, then there might be grounds to restrict the practice of companies offering egg freezing. Imogen makes the case that the woman who is considering using this technology is usually best placed to make her own decisions.

Her view is that we should be careful not to undermine women and the choices they make. As long as consent is freely given - and fully informed - we should trust women to make the choices that are best for them.

For discussion: Of the four options that Imogen Goold lays out, which one do you think is best? Why?

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Making Babies in the 21st Century

UCL (University College London)