Endocrinologists are very familiar with Sofia Vergara, who is the Spokeswoman for a major brand of levothyroxine sodium, after her total thyroidectomy for thyroid cancer:
But her thyroid gland is not the only thing that’s out of her body. She’s making bigger news in an unusual reproductive ethics case surrounding ownership of frozen embryos she created with her ex-fiancee, Nick Loeb. Recently, the issue aired on the Today Show:
The law is clear that embryos are not legal persons, even when created by celebrities. Personhood occurs at birth. But there is such a thing as “embryo patienthood.” This is a concept that grew out of the “fetal patienthood” framework developed by bioethicist Lawrence McCullough and OBGYN, Frank Chervenak.
So what is the moral status of frozen embryos? It all depends on whether they are patients. McCullough and Chervenak assert that patienthood status is determined by the parents. If the embryos are intended to be future children, they are patients to which physicians owe beneficent-based obligations. If they are not presented as patients, they do not need to be morally considered.
But what happens when paternal and maternal interests clash? When Dad says the embryos are patients, and Mom says they are not? Reproductive endocrinologists need to ensure their couples have clear Advance Directives before creating potential persons. In the same way that we advocate for Advance Directives for End of Life decisions to avoid family conflicts over dying patients, we need Advance Directives for Beginning of Life decisions, too.