The role of legislation in shaping public opinion: The case of gamete donation

Selina Metternick-Jones1

1 University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia

Biomedicine and society have a particularly tense relationship, with medicine often challenging established moral norms. This complicated relationship is explored by analysing the ethical and regulatory perspectives surrounding third party reproduction and the use of donor gametes. Bioethics identifies the way individuals and society ought to act, however this is not always how they do act. In these instances, regulatory frameworks should be implemented to promote ethically acceptable approaches to the provision of medicine. Two examples of this have been explored. Firstly, access to donated gametes for third party reproduction by single and lesbian women has challenged Australian society’s traditional view of family. Legislative reform has been needed in order to protect reproductive autonomy in an equitable manner. Secondly, access to information by donor conceived children regarding their genetic parentage has historically been denied. However, regulatory frameworks have been put in place to protect the rights of the child. It is concluded that through challenging existing moral norms biomedicine encourages the evolution of values within society. As this evolution is often slow, regulatory frameworks are needed to protect the rights of individuals and further encourage change within society. While this may not be the ideal approach, it is necessary due to the speed at which new medical advances are made, making it difficult for society’s moral consideration to keep pace.


Selina Metternick-Jones is the Ethics Coordinator at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and manages the Human Research Ethics Office and the associated Human Research Ethics Committee. Selina is currently completing her Masters in Bioethics at the University of Sydney. Through this program she is completing a thesis on parental responsibility in the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Previously, Selina worked for WA Health and was involved in the development of a national policy framework for newborn bloodspot screening in Australia. This work involved a consideration of programmatic, ethical and legislative issues as well as issues of public opinion.

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