What is the acceptability of using stem cell-based fertility treatments (SCFT) for different indications according to gynaecologists and the general public?
The majority of gynaecologists and the general public accept SCFT for the indications female or male infertility in young heterosexual couples, and female infertility in single women and same-sex couples.
SCFT could result in genetic parenthood for intended parents with indications that cannot be treated using currently available methods, such as being in a same-sex relationship or female post-menopausal age. It is unclear whether the acceptability of SCFT differs between indications for treatment and whether gynaecologists and the general public differ in their assessments.
In November 2015, a cross-sectional survey was disseminated among 179 gynaecologists and a panel of 1250 respondents comprising a representative sample of the Dutch general public.
The potential indications for future SCFT to achieve genetic parenthood were identified by literature review. A questionnaire was developed, reviewed by experts from different disciplines and tested among the general public. The questionnaire asked whether treating eight groups of intended parents with SCFT was acceptable or not. Regression analysis examined whether demographic characteristics influenced choices and whether the general public and gynaecologists differed in opinion.
A total of 82 (46%) gynaecologists and 772 (62%) members of the general public completed the survey. The acceptability of using SCFT varied according to both gynaecologists and the general public between the eight groups of intended parents (P < 0.001). The majority of the Dutch general public accepts SCFT for six out of eight possible indications, namely female infertility in young heterosexual couples (94%), male infertility in young heterosexual couples (94%), unexplained infertility in young heterosexual couples (83%), female infertility in single women (69%), lesbian couples (68%) and gay couples (62%). The majority of gynaecologists also found treating these groups acceptable, except for the indication of unexplained infertility, which was only accepted by a minority of gynaecologists (43%). A minority of both the general public and gynaecologists accepted SCFT for fertile women who want a child that is genetically only her own (27 and 6%, respectively) and for female infertility in heterosexual couples in which the woman is over 50 years of age (17% and 26%, respectively). Attaching low importance to religion, having progressive political preferences, not having a university degree, having experienced infertility, being a woman, being older and not being of European ethnicity were positively associated with considering using SCFT acceptable for one or multiple indications.
The generalizability of our findings to future decades or other countries might be limited as opinions about novel technologies change over time and might vary across cultures. Support among gynaecologists and the general public is interesting but not proof of ethical acceptability.
Once proven safe and effective, fear of limited acceptability by the general public is unwarranted, and thus should not stop gynaecologists from offering SCFT to single infertile women and same-sex couples in addition to young infertile heterosexual couples.
Funded by the Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Universities of Amsterdam and Leuven. No conflict of interest to declare.