I am a lecturer and researcher in bioethics. I have research interests in the ethical implications of innovation and research in all areas of the biosciences, including new reproductive technologies; research ethics and governance; justice and resource allocation.
My PhD thesis explored the ethical implications of artificial gametes (sperm and eggs created in the laboratory). In collaboration with film-makers Tom Lloyd and Tim Fleming, I worked on the creation of a film to illustrate the ideas I had been working on. The project was funded by the Wellcome Trust.
The film can be viewed online. 'In Vitro' tells the story of a female scientist who, frustrated by finding her research hampered by regulatory restrictions, fertilises one of her own eggs with sperm manufactured from her bone marrow. The results of her experiment bring some unexpected consequences, leading her to consider the impact of her choices on herself and others. The project is associated with teaching materials for teachers who want to use this resource in their work. Visit my Film page for more information.
- How useful is the concept of the ‘harm threshold’ in reproductive ethics and law?
It is commonly assumed that the use of reproductive technologies should be limited by considerations of harm to the resulting offspring. Derek Parfit has argued that where a child could not exist without a particular genetic condition, we cannot say it has been harmed unless its suffering passes a certain threshold. In this paper, I consider how this threshold might be set, and what role it should play in law. I demonstrate that the concept of such a threshold is flawed, and that it is not possible to show that a child has been harmed by the means of its conception.
- Artificial gametes and the ethics of unwitting parenthood (with Daniela Cutas)
In this paper, we explore the ethical and legal implications of collecting discarded skin cells, using them to develop sperm or eggs that would be genetically those of the unwitting donor, and then producing offspring, who would likewise be the genetic children of 'parents' who might never have been aware that their cells were being used in this way.
- Perimortem gamete retrieval: should we worry about consent?
Perimortem sperm retrieval involves the surgical extraction of sperm from a dying man. This can then be frozen and stored for future use. Usually, the request for this intervention comes from a spouse or partner after the man in question has lost capacity to consent. But is it acceptable to perform this kind of procedure on a dying patient?
- Will Artificial Gametes End Infertility? (with Daniela Cutas)
In this paper we will look at the various ways in which infertility can be understood and at how need for reproductive therapies can be construed, against the background of research into artificial gametes. We attempt to establish the degree to which technologies such as artificial gametes will expand the reproductive choices available to people, and examine whether such technologies are likely to bring about the "end of infertility".
- Reification and compassion in medicine: a tale of two systems
If doctors and nurses were more compassionate, would this help to avoid problems in the health service? In this paper, I argue that the answer is not necessarily 'yes', and that a scientistic healthcare system will always struggle to accommodate incommensurable virtues such as compassion.
See my publications
page for a full list of papers, book chapters and other articles.
Ruth Deech and Anna Smajdor
This is a book for anyone who has ever paused to wonder: Will cloning ever be legal? Why it is that 'saviour siblings' and sex selection provoke such strong reactions? Will there ever be such a thing as an artificial womb?
Assisted reproductive technologies are unique in their capacity to challenge our assumptions and elicit passionate responses. Looking at the moral, philosophical, and legal issues surrounding cases of surrogacy, single or same-sex parenthood, retrieval of sperm from dead or dying patients, and the insemination of post-menopausal women, this book questions whether these rapidly-developing technologies are refashioning the nature of the family.
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Reproductive Futures is a collaborative project linking my interest in reproductive ethics, and artist Zoe Papadopoulou's innovative ways of exploring scientific developments through art. Funded by the Wellcome Trust (an Arts Award), the project involves the creation of artefacts that illustrate the changing narratives of conception and parenthood as new reproductive technologies emerge. Currently a work in progress, the project will culminate in an exhibition of a series of linked objects, images and texts.
The project's progress can be tracked on Zoe's website: http://zoeworks.co.uk/projects/reproductive-futures