Public Release: 

Parenting ethics panel explores thorny issues posed by technology

Stanford University Medical Center

STANFORD, Calif. - Advances in reproductive technologies have brought babies into the lives of thousands of yearning couples. But with those advances come some difficult questions: What is a parent? Who decides what a parent is? And will we, as a society, be satisfied with the answer?

Linda Giudice, MD, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University School of Medicine, will delve into these and other thorny issues during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle. The panel, called "Creating a World We Won't Want to Inhabit?" begins Feb. 15 at 2:30 p.m.

Giudice and the other panelists will focus their comments on "Bloodlines: Technology Hits Home," a PBS documentary that aired nationally in June of 2003. The three-part show presented cases involving legal and ethical questions that sprouted from new reproductive and genetic technologies. "Noel Schwerin [writer, director and producer of the show] wanted people to think about what happens when technology is used in other situations besides traditional arrangements," said Giudice, who is also chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Stanford.

The documentary presented one scenario in which a baby was conceived by donor sperm and the egg of one woman, and was carried by that woman's lesbian partner. Who was the mother in this situation? "I would consider both women to be the mother, but legally, I don't know if there is an answer," Giudice said.

The documentary makes it clear that current laws are inadequate when applied to questions raised by these technologies; one physician interviewed on the program said fertility specialists are often the ones setting policy. "There is so little precedent for unique arrangements - and the arrangements are still fairly rare - that a lot of policies are being made on the spot," Giudice said. One of the biggest challenges is in the court, when such arrangements go awry, she added.

New technology can lead to concerns over far more provocative things than the creation of nontraditional families, however. Giudice and the panel will address what she calls the "extremes of technology," such as reproductive cloning. She said it's important for people to realize that the worst-case scenarios of reproductive technology are unlikely to occur, and that physicians and researchers have the responsibility to ensure that they do not.

"There are many options in reproductive technologies, but we're not likely to see the 'Brave New World' that is associated with the extremes of this technology," she said. "We want our audience to know that we're looking to the future for ways to use the technology in a smart, meaningful and responsible way."

A screening of "Bloodlines" will be followed by remarks from Giudice and fellow experts in law, ethics and genetics. Donald Kennedy, PhD, former Stanford University president and current editor-in-chief of Science, will serve as moderator of the panel.


Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. For more information, please visit the Web site of the medical center's Office of Communication & Public Affairs at

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