The third episode of Robert Winston’s series on IVF, Make me a dad (BBC1, 28th November 2006, TRILT code: 005D9CF2) looks specifically at the use of ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) to help men with fertility problems. This fascinating programme focusses on two couples where infertility/ low fertility is known to stem from the male partner.
Tom has cystic fibrosis and although he makes sperm he is missing the vas deferens tubes which would deliver the sperm from his testes to his penis. Wayne has been undergoing chemotherapy to treat his cancer, but this has also has a bad effect on the quality of his sperm. In both cases the couples are put through a programme of IVF using ICSI, in which the sperm are artificially delivered directly into the egg using a micropipette.
Several ethical issues are raised during the episode. These include (a) the fact that ICSI bypasses the natural process by which substandard sperm are filtered out and therefore there is increased risk that damaged sperm are transferred; (b) the health costs to the female partner whilst taking chemicals to cause her to overproduce eggs; and (c) whether Tom, as a sufferer with CF, has equal rights to such treatments. Some interesting comments about the motivation and need felt by individuals to become parents were also made.
A discussion of the next episode Cheating time is also available here on the BioethicsBytes site.