In Australia, social psychologist, Dr. Robyn Rowland, has resigned as chairwoman of the research co-ordinating committee of the Queen Victoria Medical Centre in Melbourne. The purpose of the committee was to co-ordinate research into the effects of reproductive techniques on families.
Dr. Rowland’s resignation (in July, 1984) is a protest against attempts to “muzzle” her research into the Artificial Insemination by Donor (AID) programme at the Centre. She is concerned that doctors showed “a disregard for the psychological health and welfare of the patients on their programme, and for the children,” and feels that not enough attention is given to the ethics and effects of new techniques.
Dr. Rowland has been told her research was now to be vetted by the doctor in charge of the AID programme, and that anything she wrote would have to be published as a joint production.
She cited recent publicity given to a statement by the programme’s head that test-tube children were superior to “normal” children as an example of disregard for the mental health of the families involved. “This places an enormous burden on those children,” she said in an interview with Rosemary West, published in The Age. “The pressure on them to perform as wonderful, perfect children is inhumane. Psychologically that is not good for them,” she warned.
While Dr. Rowland does not object to current AID and in vitro fertilization (IVF) programmes, she does worry that women’s bodies are being used as “living laboratories.” She also says that recent advances in the field are in danger of leading to “genetic manipulation.”
There has been committee-discussion on the technique of “flushing” an embryo from the womb of a “donor mother.” The “donor mother” would be fertilized with sperm from the husband of an infertile woman. A few days after conception the embryo would be flushed from the donor’s womb and implanted into the infertile woman. Dr. Rowland says there is a danger that the technique may not work, leaving the donor woman either to carry the child to term, or to abort if she did not want the child. She also points out that there is no guarantee that the embryo would not be damaged.
If test-tube babies are seen as superior, “the next step in the argument is that we must not have natural children because test tube babies are genetically clean,” she said. If the process of ectogenesis (a child growing in an artificial womb) is allowed, Dr. Rowland said, “we could be conned into having all our children outside the body.”
Dr. Rowland calls for a moratorium on research into human reproductive technology until there has been full community consultation and debate. She sees it as “the use of women to satisfy the excitement of the scientific chase and to bolster these men’s reputations.”