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10 Things You Really Need to Know About IVF Before Using It

Stefan Pasch
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It's good and normal to desire children - but at any cost?

One in six couples will experience infertility.  Since we each came from large families with many siblings and nieces and nephews, my husband and I never expected to experience infertility.  In fact, during our three years of dating, we discussed every potential problem we could face – how to handle joint finances, how to balance family and career, how to manage personality conflicts, how to properly load a dishwasher.  You name it – we fretted about it – except what ended up being the greatest challenge of our marriage.

So, we get it.  We understand what an unexpected and devastating diagnosis infertility can be.

Harvard medical researcher Alice Domar reports, "The majority of infertile women report that infertility is the most upsetting experience of their lives.  Infertile women report equivalent levels of anxiety and depression as women with cancer, HIV status or heart disease." 

And so, procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) seemingly offer real hope for those who so desperately desire children.  In that procedure, a woman takes hormones to stimulate her ovaries to produce many eggs in a single cycle.  The mature eggs are then removed through transvaginal aspiration (a procedure done under sedation) or even laparoscopic surgery.  Sperm are collected from a man, typically through masturbation.  A clinician then places each egg in a bath of sperm, attempting to create embryos.  Once fertilization has taken place, one or more embryos are then transferred into a woman’s uterus in the hopes that at least one will implant successfully and be carried to term.  

By the way, what is an “embryo”? An embryo is what results when sperm and egg successfully join.  It is a completely new human being at a very early stage of development.  In the right environment and under the right circumstances, an embryo will keep on growing – from a fetus, to a newborn, to a toddler, to a child, through adolescence to, if she survives the turmoil of puberty and high school, adulthood.  So an embryo is just a very young person.

The difficulty is that, when you learn more about IVF, it is not such a good thing.  Most people find it difficult to believe that there could be a moral or ethical concern with a medical procedure that is performed in pursuit of the natural and good desire to have a child.  I’ve had to explain to numerous friends and family members why we chose not to use IVF.  Yes, IVF may allow couples to conceive the child that they desire and for some this will outweigh everything else.  But, here are ten things I learned about IVF that might give some couples reason to reconsider:

1. IVF destroys common notions of parenthood.  The old-fashioned way of making babies involves the physical union of a man and a woman. But, even the most basic version of IVF involves other people in the actual act of creation –doctors and technicians who retrieve the sperm and eggs, fertilize them in the lab and place them in the woman’s body.  It can get more complicated – surrogates, donor eggs, donor sperm, children conceived from the frozen, banked sperm of deceased fathers, and some technologies involving three sets of DNA that sound like they came out of Brave New World. While this might not bother you, this can get confusing and upsetting for the children conceived through IVF, and social science data suggests that donor-conceived children report struggles with identity and origin and that they fare worse than their peers in outcomes such as depression and substance abuse.

2. IVF is a form of eugenics. Speaking of Brave New World, we have versions of the “fertilizing room” and the “bottling room.”  Is the “social predestination room” next?  Why do I say this?  Well, to increase the chances of success, IVF involves diagnostic and screening procedures to get the “best” baby.  For example, sperm are washed to isolate the healthiest and fastest among them and can be sorted to produce a desired gender. Eggs can be screened for chromosomal abnormalities. And, IVF clinics can use preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to detect genetic conditions and chromosomal mutations (or even undesired traits, like

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