Guidance requested—Quickly!

Two weeks ago Devon Remus, 33, a woman of color who lives with her husband in State X waited in the clinic of IVF Inc in State Y to have embryos placed in her uterus by Dr. Lucielle Williams. The embryos were produced in the clinic three days earlier by mixing Devon's eggs with her husband's sperm, a procedure called in vitro fertilization (IVF). Ellie Foster, a white woman from State Y, was also at the clinic to have Dr. Williams place in Ellie's uterus embryos produced in vitro from her eggs and her husband's sperm. In the waiting room the husbands, Raymond Remus and Steve Foster made small talk, while down the hall a new approach to their becoming fathers proceeded without them.

One week ago Dr. Williams' laboratory technician informed her of a slip up—three of Remus' embryos has been placed in Ellie Foster's uterus along with several of the Fosters' own embryos. Dr. Williams realized that the situation was potentially serious. For example, what if the only pregnancy to result were from a Remus embryo that had been implanted into Ellie Foster? She consulted her advisors on the board of IVF Inc. who decided quickly that they needed confidential guidance—IVF Inc. were experts in the biomedical technique of IVF, but not in probability, law, ethics, counseling, public relations, intercultural mediation, and other issues that might need to be addressed. One of the board had heard that some professors in biology education at the University of Massachusetts used ill-defined problems to teach about biology in its social context. (Note: Neither state X nor Y is Massachusetts.) After some discrete inquiries, the IVF Inc board agreed to let me, a professor at UMass, get whatever help I needed to produce a set of "briefings" for them in two weeks.

These briefings need to provide well-structured information about different issues the board needs to help IVF Inc., the couples, and other parties who may come to be involved think about the issues and what they could do. Two weeks is a short time, but the board wants a minimum of two days after that to take stock before the women come to the clinic to confirm whether or not they are pregnant. To meet this deadline, I have to enlist your help. Keep in mind, your mission is not to recommend to IVF Inc how to (re)solve the problem or tell them what to do. Your mission is to think through what issues might need to be addressed by different parties, do research on them, rethink the issues and do more research, and eventually present what you learn in an understandable, digestible format that can be used by help IVF Inc., the couples, and other parties who may come to be involved when they think about the issues and what they will do.

Index of related knowledge claims and substantive statements, incl. briefings