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The Transformation of Women's Health Care into Reproductive Medicine: A Cautionary Tale

When Dec 03, 2008
from 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Where Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library
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Scientists supported by a massive NIH roadmap grant are currently developing techniques for growing fresh human eggs from cryopreserved ovarian tissue. When this procedure is perfected, we will be able to remove follicular tissue from girls as young as six months old and store it for later use in reproduction. The focus of this research is on pediatric cancer patients who risk losing their fertility through treatment, but there is no reason why the procedure needs to be restricted to this patient population. The possibility of growing eggs from cryopreserved follicular tissue has the potential to completely overcome major barriers to fertility such as age-related egg degradation.

Surely this emerging technology will have many salutary uses. However, it also has the potential to transform female children and even infants into reproductive medicine patients. This shift needs to be situated within a larger cultural trend: women's health care is increasingly being transformed into reproductive health care. New CDC guidelines explicitly urge that all of women's primary care be treated as "preconception care," since "the average woman of reproductive age encounters the medical system 3.8 times per year and any of these occasions may be a woman's last before she becomes pregnant." In this context, the prospect of technologically extending women and girls' "reproductive age" back as far as infancy takes on new significance. I will discuss the ethical and political complexities that attend this general transformation in women's health care, as well as the particular concerns and possibilities raised by the follicular cryopreservation project.

Rebecca Kukla

Photo on event page.Professor of Philosophy and Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of South Florida

Rebecca Kukla is Professor of Philosophy and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Affiliated Professor of Women's Studies, and a core faculty member in the graduate program in Medical Humanities and Bioethics at the University of South Florida. She is also co-coordinator of the Feminist Approaches to Bioethics Network, and a member of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Risk Research Group and the Bioethics Advisory Committee for the Oncofertility Consortium. She received her honours B.A. in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1990 and her Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh in 1996, and she was a Greenwall Postdoctoral Fellow in Bioethics and Health Policy at Johns Hopkins University from 2003 to 2005. She has held invited positions at Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, Queen's University, and in the Food and Nutrition Assistance Research Program at the USDA. She has published widely on reproductive ethics, the ethics of health communication, and the ethics of primary care. Among her publications is Mass Hysteria: Medicine, Culture, and Mothers' Bodies (Rowman and Littlefield 2005). Currently she holds a grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada entitled "Autonomy and the Negotiation of Information in Reproductive Health Care."