IVF Turns Families Topsy-Turvy
Troubling Consequences of Artificial Reproduction
Rome, July 23, 2007
Robert Winston, professor of fertility studies at Imperial College London, said clinics had been corrupted by money and that doctors were exploiting women desperate to get pregnant, reported the Guardian on May 31. "It's very easy to exploit people by the fact that they're desperate and you've got the technology, which they want, which may not work," he said.
When it comes to the impact on family life, one of the changes introduced is the trend toward older mothers, reported the London-based Times newspaper June 6. The proportion of in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients aged between 40 and 45 has risen from 10% in the 1990s to 15% in 2006, the article noted. Last year a total of 6,174 women in this age group had fertility treatment, compared with just 596 in 1991.
The average age of all fertility patients has also increased by a full year since 1996, from 33.8 to 34.8. The information comes from data published by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority.
The Times commented that the success rate of treatments at an older age is much lower. For women aged between 40 and 42, the live birthrate for a first treatment cycle is 9%. Once they are 44 or above it is 1%. Moreover, at 40, the risk of miscarriage is twice what it is at 20, and there is an increased likelihood of ectopic pregnancy, premature birth, stillbirth, neonatal death and birth defects.
Twins at 60
Shortly before the publication of this data, news came from the United States of a 60-year-old woman who gave birth to twin boys, reported the Associated Press, May 23. Frieda Birnbaum gave birth to the boys at Hackensack University Medical Center, New Jersey.
Another case that received attention was that of Spanish mother Carmela Bousada, who gave birth at 67 to twins, reported the Times on Jan. 29. She underwent IVF treatment at the Pacific Fertility Center in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the Canadian newspaper the Ottawa Citizen reported April 18 the case of Melanie Boivin, who donated some of her ova to her daughter, Flavie. The daughter, aged 7, is sterile due to a genetic condition. The article commented that if Flavie eventually decides to use the ova and becomes pregnant, she will be give birth to her genetic sister and Melanie Boivin will simultaneously become mother and grandmother. The mother's actions were criticized by ethicist Margaret Somerville, the paper reported. "We have to think about what we are doing when we are running around nature," she said, noting that such a procedure completely overturns the normal transition of life.
Another practice that raises ethical doubts is the increasing use of surrogate mothers from developing nations to bear children for families from richer nations. One of the countries where this is taking place is India, explained an article published by Reuters on Feb. 4. A surrogate mother in the United States would cost a couple anything up to $50,000, Gautam Allahbadia, a fertility specialist, told Reuters. In India, however, it can be done for $10,000-$12,
Clinics are also starting to offer treatments aimed at the homosexual community. The Los Angeles-based The Fertility Institutes has launched a program for homosexual men who want to become parents, Reuters reported March 14. According to clinic director Jeffrey Steinberg they have already treated about 70 gay male couples while preparing the new service. He also noted that around three-quarters of the homosexual couples pay extra to choose the sex of their baby.
The convoluted parental structures created by IVF techniques also give rise to complex legal problems. A surrogate mother who has no genetic connection to the baby she is carrying does not have to be listed as the mother on a birth certificate, ruled the Maryland Court of Appeals, according to a report by the Associated Press on May 16. The case involved twins born in 2001. The woman carried the twins for a father who used an egg donor, and the surrogate mother had no genetic relationship to the twins.
Another case, still to be decided, involves the fate of a couple's frozen embryos. Augusta and Randy Roman decided to go ahead with treatment to produce the embryos, but just hours before they were due to be implanted in the wife's womb, her husband decided he did not want to go ahead with the procedure, reported the Los Angeles Times on May 30. This took place in 2002 and the following year the couple divorced. Since then they have disagreed over the fate of the frozen embryos and the matter has now reached the Supreme Court of Texas. Randy wants the embryos destroyed or to remain frozen.
The Los Angeles Times noted that so far the top courts of six states have ruled in such cases. In general they have decided that the right of one ex-spouse to not procreate trumps that of the other to procreate.
Not morally neutral
Church has long warned of the problems associated with IVF. In 1987 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the "Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation,
Since 1987, the technologies involved in IVF have changed greatly, but many of the underlying ethical problems are the same. Science and technology are valuable resources, the instruction readily acknowledged. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to consider that scientific research and its applications are morally neutral. Moreover, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained, they must be put at the service of the human person and should follow the criteria of the moral law. It is a mistake to consider the human body as merely made up of biological elements, the instruction argued. The human person has both a bodily and a spiritual nature.
As well, when it comes to the question of transmitting human life, it is not permissible to ignore the special nature of the human person. From the moment of conception, the instruction insisted, the life of every human person must be respected. In addition, the gift of human life should be carried out in the context of acts by a husband and wife.
The congregation admitted that the desire for children and the love between spouses who wish to overcome problems of sterility "constitute understandable motivations,
The document also commented on how only too often IVF techniques involve the destruction of human embryos. By acting in this manner we place ourselves in the position of imposing "death by decree," the text warned. The regular practice of such acts carries with it the risk of creating a mentality that leads us to a domination over the life and death of fellow human beings, the congregation adverted. A domination that with the passing of time is creating a seemingly unstoppable slide into practices that bring about serious moral and social dilemmas.