Ethical Issues Continue to Emerge in our Covid19 World

Work Setting: Fertility Work

Jeanne Ferguson

Families are still trying to move on in their lives, further their dreams and pursue their best hopes for their future, despite the frightening and constantly unfolding drama around Covid19 in our world. This will always be true, even when everyone’s future is murky.

In my work with families, I am encountering ethical dilemmas that are brought home daily as singles and couples, gay and straight, try to create their families through IVF, surrogacy and using egg and sperm donors. What we DON’T know right now about the potential consequences to our reproductive bodies, is wreaking havoc with the decisions folks are trying to make about creating embryos. Will Covid19 exposure or infections in women looking to get pregnant create the terribly grim reality that the Zika virus did for children born with dramatic brain impacts and significant birth defects? How long will it take for us to know the impacts? At what point in gestation or reproductive processes will the exposure affect embryos, fetuses or women’s eggs or men’s sperm?

Serving families who have had their hearts set on creating their families through the incredible technology now available can be so joyful. And yet, these unanswered questions are having a chilling effect on the work occurring in labs and clinics around the world. What do we tell clients when we don’t have the data yet to answer their questions? A year from now, will we wish we had halted all of this work to support families to create their babies?

Social Workers are positioned to be excellent participants in any and all conversations that address these complex ethical issues, and our clear ethical standards and processes (along with our colleagues in medicine and law) will hold us in good stead. We have so much to learn, and being transparent and candid while not being unduly alarming with our clients is our best approach.

Asking questions about ethical implications, even when or especially when we are lacking sufficient data to support any particular position is essential for us to practice in ways where we honor our profession, our clients wishes, and the best interests of vulnerable populations, including future children entering this world. It is not easy. But it is imperative. We are Social Workers, and we will do it.