As both a health lawyer and a new mom I have a message to share: oncologists and young adults diagnosed with cancer need to have the fertility talk. If the doctor doesn’t bring it up, the patient should.
It is well known that cancer treatments can lead to infertility. That is the nature of the beast. But it doesn’t mean that someone fighting cancer can’t have children in the future. However, it may be necessary to take steps to preserve fertility in advance of treatment so that children do remain an option.
Unbeknownst to many caregivers, there is a legal context – a complicated web of laws – that govern health care decision-making.
Many caregivers are family and friends who play a supportive role, but have no legal authority to make decisions and few, if any, legal obligations. However, some caregivers are also “substitute decision-makers” (SDMs for short), an umbrella term for individuals with legal rights and responsibilities in relation to making decisions for another person.
Health professionals know the drill. You need the patient to sign the consent form before proceeding with a treatment or procedure. But what is often forgotten is that a signature alone is not sufficient. Informed consent – the kind required by law – is not just a form, but a process. It means explaining to the patient the risks, benefits, and alternatives to the proposed treatment or procedure. It means giving the patient an opportunity to ask questions, and answering those questions. Health professionals who fail to obtain informed consent face liability if something goes wrong.
Introduction Prior to undergoing cancer treatment some patients will freeze their sperm or eggs in order to preserve them. Sometimes people will combine their fresh sperm or egg with their partner’s genetic material to create embryos that are then frozen. This maintains the option of having children even if treatments render the patient infertile. At a later date the embryos can be thawed and transferred into the patient, the partner, or a surrogate’s uterus. Thawing and transferring frozen embryos can be more effective than thawing frozen sperm or egg and creating embryos at a later date. From a legal perspective, however, this approach contains a greater level of risk.