I read two stories today that put me in mind of the dilemmas presented by our ability to freeze (or cryopreserve) gametes. There’s this story from Israel, which is really more of an op-ed piece and really more of a promotion for this site. And then there’s this essay from today’s Science section in the NYT. They are in many ways quite different but they are also, to my mind, complementary.
In the Times Suleika Jaquad writes about the choices she faces as she embarks on necessary chemotherapy while only in her twenties. While the treatment may save her life it could also destroy her eggs. Thus, if she wants to preserve the ability to have a biologically related child, she has to consider freezing her eggs.
Now this is not at all uncommon for men, but there are important differences when women face this choice. Freezing sperm is easy and well understood. We’ve done it for a long time. You can look around here and find discussions of the topic.
Freezing eggs is harder. In fact, it’s easier to freeze embryos than eggs. So the best way to preserve Jaquad’s genetic material would be to allow them to be fertilized by sperm and then freeze the embryos. The problem is that the most obvious source of sperm–her boyfriend–is relatively new to the scene. What if he doesn’t last? Would she want the embryos made with his sperm? She calls it awkward territory and that seems pretty mild. (FWIW, I think choosing to freeze her eggs alone, as she does, is probably the wiser course.)
But my purpose isn’t really to second guess her–this is an incredibly personal decision that she should feel no obligation to defend. Really it’s just to marvel and the questions we are now face. Of course, it’s also worth noting that the reason for freezing the eggs has to do with the importance of having a genetically related child, as does the freezing of sperm in similar cases.
In that last regard this essay describes something quite different from the Israeli program. The idea behind the Biological Will is that you leave your gametes to be frozen for someone else’s use. It’s a will–as in last will and testament–so that by definition it only comes into play after your death. I suppose you might direct the gametes to a particular person, but it seems like it is also possible to just direct that they be made available. The idea is that the person who uses the gametes doesn’t have to worry about your role in the child’s life (since you are by then dead) but can have access to all of the extended family and the medical history and so on. It’s a way around the fear of the known sperm or egg provider becoming a bit too intrusive, I guess.
It’s certainly something to think about. I notice that for the time being it says it is available for US citizens only, but I wonder if it is actually likely to be effective throughout the US. (Laws vary quite a bit state to state.)
I’m going to stop here for the moment, partly because I’m not sure what to say to tie everything up. It just seems to me that it is interesting that we are offered all these opportunities (or asked to make choices) about what to do with out gametes–something no one thought about a hundred years ago, I’d guess.