The largest sperm bank in the UK is being investigated by the national fertility regulator for promoting eugenic practices. Following complaints about the London Sperm Bank, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority has asked why donors with a long list of medical conditions are being excluded.
These include: attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], autism, Asperger syndrome, dyslexia, severe obsessive compulsive disorder, colour blindness, cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, Parkinson disease and the motor disorder dyspraxia.
Media attention focused on dyslexia, as a number of prominent high achievers have been dyslexics, like Sir Richard Branson and Steve Jobs.
Fred Fisher, a 30-year-old dyslexic Oxford graduate who is working as a software engineers, was rejected by the sperm bank. “I told them this was eugenics, but it’s not even good eugenics. Would they turn away Richard Branson or Albert Einstein? We need innovative people who think differently in the world. Dyslexic people make a great contribution to our society.”
Steve O’Brien, chair of the Dyslexia Foundation, told The Guardian: “This is eugenics. It’s trying to say that dyslexics shouldn’t be in society.”
A spokesperson for the London Sperm Bank denied that the company’s policy was eugenicist. However, in a now-withdrawn leaflet, it stated that it excluded men with certain conditions to “minimise the risk of transmitting common genetic diseases or malformations to any children born”.
The US Department of Health and Human Services has ruled that that transgender people are entitled to sex-change surgery provided under Medicare Advantage insurers. An Air Force veteran, Charlene Lauderdale, sought coverage for her transitioning surgery in November 2014 but it was denied because it was not the proper treatment for her, as she had been hospitalised four times for psychiatric problems.
The background to this decision is instructive. For many years, Medicare refused to cover transgender surgery. But in May 2014 a HHS Appeals Board ruled that this exclusion was based on outdated, incomplete, and biased science and medicine.
It turns out that the board reached its decision in a rather unusual way. In 1981 Medicare described sex reassignment surgery as “controversial” and “experimental” and said that it should not be covered. When this was appealed in 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) declined to defend the old determination. The only evidence presented to the appeals board was submitted by advocacy groups supporting the “aggrieved party”. The CMS presented not one sentence of evidence.
Our legal system is adversarial and its integrity depends on an honest clash between opposing points of view. Why did the CMS throw in the towel? Did it really believe that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever which might question the benefits of transgender surgery? It certainly exists.
In fact, a 2014 review about research into suicide and transgender population found “an unparalleled level of suicidal behavior among transgender adults”. This was compiled by the Williams Institute, at the UCLA School of Law, an LGBT think tank, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Their conclusions are also quite sobering: “The prevalence of suicide attempts among respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality, is 41 percent, which vastly exceeds the 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population who report a lifetime suicide attempt, and is also higher than the 10-20 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults who report ever attempting suicide.”
Bioethics must always be based on evidence. Ignoring contrary evidence, as the HHS seems to have done, not only corrupts the legal process, it could do immense harm to vulnerable people.Michael Cook
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