Nic and Jules, [both females], are married and share a cozy suburban Southern California home with their teenage children, Joni and Laser. Nic and Jules gave birth to and raised their children, and built a family life for the four of them. As Joni prepares to leave for college, 15-year-old Laser presses her for a big favor. He wants Joni, now 18, to help him find their biological father; the two teenagers were conceived by donor insemination.” The two teenagers find their father and, presumably, everything is fine.
This description of a 2008 movie, “The Kids Are All Right” addresses a new phenomenon in American life—children who are “produced” by Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART). It is estimated that, worldwide, ART has resulted in the births of over one million children since 1978. Initially, it provided an opportunity for heterosexual married couples to overcome the heartbreak of infertility, and to fulfill a life-long dream of parenthood. Of late, it has also been used by homosexual couples and individuals through the use of donated sperm, eggs, and/or surrogates to produce children they would otherwise be unable to have.
Mass media, as displayed in this movie, paints a picture in which everyone touched by this phenomenon is all right.
In fact, they are not. ART, including In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), has been around for over 30 years, but the long-term effects of the technology are just now being realized, and regardless of the marital status or sexual orientation of the parents, the news is not good for the children “produced” by IVF, the women who carry them to term, or the young men and women who contribute sperm or egg, respectively, for their production.
ART has impacted the social fabric as well. IVF has been used to justify the commodification and extermination of innocent human life. It has been used to launch eugenics and designer baby movements, and with the use of sperm and egg donations, has raised concern about accidental incest. On the theological plane, it has made man the master of life rather than its steward.
Before continuing down this road, Americans should re-examine whether the cost to society, in general, and citizens, in particular, is just too high to pay.
Artificial Reproduction Technology (ART) is a term defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as “all fertility treatments in which the egg and sperm are handled.” ART includes the two most popular treatments—traditional In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI).
In Vitro Fertilization, “vitro” meaning “in glass,” is a procedure used to fertilize a woman’s egg outside the womb, and transfer that fertilized egg into the woman’s uterus. Louise Brown, born in 1978 in the United Kingdom, was the first child born using this procedure. The treatment has been used in the United States since 1981.
In addition to traditional IVF, ICSI is the other procedure used to fertilize eggs outside the womb. Originally used to improve fertilization rates among mainly married couples where the male suffered from severe infertility, today, it is widely used by all types of couples. In this procedure, an egg is harvested, and a single sperm is retrieved and injected across the membrane of the woman’s egg. The first ICSI child was born in the United Kingdom in 1992.
Both procedures are used by a variety of individuals and couples: married heterosexual couples using their own sperm and eggs or using donations, and homosexual couples or individuals acting alone who use donations to produce the embryo. Both procedures involve the following steps: 1. The egg donor is given fertility drugs to boost egg production, and undergoes follicular aspiration, a procedure for removal of the eggs; 2. Sperm is taken from the man; 3. The egg is fertilized outside the womb, resulting in an embryo; 4. One or more embryos are implanted in a woman’s womb.
According to a 2009 Science Daily article, worldwide, ART has produced annually between 219,000 and 246,000 children, or about one to three percent of all births in developed nations. According to the CDC, in 2008, 61,426 infants were born in the U.S. using ART. Most of those children were a product of the ICSI procedure.
The egg donation industry has changed drastically since its inception in 1976. In the form of traditional surrogacy, the surrogate would be inseminated with the intended father’s sperm. With the dawn of IVF, surrogacy and egg donation became separate components to child “production.” Egg brokers and women looking to sell their eggs exploded. According to Debora Spar in her book, “The Baby Business,” New York’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center had five egg donors on file in 1995. By 1998, the program’s director reported that he received as many as 100 calls per week from potential egg donors and had 500 egg donors on file. According to a 2010 Los Angeles Times article, women over 40 and homosexual men are the primary purchasers of these eggs.
According to Spar, the separation of surrogacy from egg donation provided an opportunity for each “market” to prosper and the cost of eggs to increase. Egg prices rose from $2,500 to over $50,000 for eggs from Ivy Leaguers, due to the ability to differentiate between donors. Proven, “successful” eggs bring more money to the donor. The most common donors are college-age women. The most common recipients of these young eggs are women over the age of 40.
Ads targeting money-strapped college women fail to mention what a donor must endure to earn her fee. She must take high doses of fertility drugs to produce greater numbers of eggs, undergo anesthesia, and endure invasive egg retrieval. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS, can be the most dangerous complication from egg retrieval. Symptoms of the condition can begin within a week after the egg collection. While most women experience mild cases of OHSS, complications associated with severe OHHS include blood clotting, kidney disorders, and respiratory failure. Women at risk include those women most targeted for egg donation—thin women and women under 30.
Studies on the long-term effects of egg donation are scarce. A 2011 Dutch Study, however, has linked women receiving ovarian stimulation with ovarian cancer later in life. Some individual case studies raise other concerns. In a documentary produced by the Center for Bioethics and Culture, entitled “Eggsploitation,” Jennifer Lahl followed several young women who underwent egg donation as a way to pay off tuition or debt. They were repaid with serious health complications, resulting in disability, infertility, and lingering health problems. One woman almost died.
Despite these health risks, the government has done nothing to protect these women. Used car sales are regulated more than the egg industry. There are no mandated warnings regarding potential harm. There is no government-imposed limit on the amount that can be paid for an egg sale. There are no limits on the number of times women can sell their eggs, despite the increased risk of OHSS with each donation. There is no mandatory tracking of buyers.
While a 1992 federal law requires the reporting of babies born using ART, there are few long-term studies on the effects on women carrying a baby “produced” by IVF. As reported in the October 21, 2011 edition of BioNews.com, American researchers have found that women receiving IVF treatments are at a 40 percent greater chance of experiencing preeclampsia than women who do not undergo IVF treatments.
This conclusion has been consistent with studies abroad. As reported in The Telegraph, a 2011 study in the U.K. found that IVF puts mothers-to-be at higher risk of preeclampsia, which results in high blood pressure, seizures, and, occasionally, death. Scientists believe that lab-grown embryos lead to poor development of the placenta, contributing to high blood pressure in the woman and stunted growth in the baby. Left untreated, it can lead to seizures. Additionally, hormone therapy undergone in preparation for IVF carries its own risks. In addition to the side-effects from the chemicals used, simply altering hormone levels can cause depression, uterine fibroids, osteoporosis, memory loss, and infections.
Children produced by ART are 20-30 percent more likely to suffer birth defects than babies conceived the old fashioned way, according to a 2012 report in Fertility and Sterility. Whether the hike in birth defects is due to the age of the women receiving the fertility treatments or the ART procedure itself is unclear. As reported in The Guardian, the embryo’s exposure to more oxygen and the culture media used to keep the embryos alive in Petri dishes “may affect how genes are expressed in IVF embryos.”
Research now shows that the harm to the child may not be realized at birth. As reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, a Switzerland study published in 2012 found significant abnormalities in the blood vessels in the body and lungs of 12-yearold children produced by IVF, which could lead to increased risk of heart attacks or strokes. That report comes on the heels of another report in 2010 that found IVF may increase the risk of diabetes, certain cancers, and the onset of high blood pressure in a child produced by ART before that child reaches the age of 50.
If the IVF procedure involves donated egg or sperm, there is an emotional cost as well. According to Elizabeth Marquardt, the principle investigator of the 2010 report “My Daddy’s Name is Donor,” donor children are “more likely to struggle with mental illness or substance abuse or depression.”
Many times, heart-warming stories about couples obtaining a child through IVF ignore the darker, anti-life side. In truth, IVF raises moral and ethical questions because the procedure involves the destruction of human life at its earliest form, both before and after implantation.
Abortion of babies after implantation is not uncommon. A small number of IVF babies are aborted because women are just changing their mind. A June 7, 2010 article in the Daily Mail reported that 97 children conceived by IVF were aborted in the U.K. in 2007. Almost one-third of the women aborting those children were between the ages of 18 and 34. A larger and growing number of babies are being aborted after implantation through a procedure known as “fetal reduction.” Due to the cost of the IVF procedure and the belief that it increases the rate of success, many doctors implant several embryos in women with the hope that some will survive. If more than the desired number survive, women are encouraged to abort the unwanted child(ren). According to a May 20, 2012 article appearing in The Telegraph, over 100 babies produced through IVF in the U.K. and growing in their mother’s womb were aborted because their mother wanted fewer children. These women were pregnant with twins, triplets or quintuplets, but did not wish to carry all of their children to term. Reportedly, reduction abortions in the U.K. almost doubled between 2006 and 2012. The decisions on which children live and which die may be based on the child’s sex, the child’s expected disability, or his or her position in the womb. Recently, researchers have found that multiple transfers do not increase “success” rates of implantation, and are now encouraging practitioners to implant only one embryo.
Even if this recommendation is followed, it does not rescue the other victims of IVF—the “unused” embryos not transferred for implantation. Studies indicate that hundreds of thousands of embryos are created and then stockpiled in fertility clinics. According to a 2007 survey conducted by scientists at Duke Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University, most couples prefer that these embryos be used for research, which result in their destruction. As reported by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) only 7.5 percent of all fertilized eggs will be implanted and allowed to live.
As an alternative to destroying these embryos, in 1997 a pro-life adoption agency, Nightlight Christian Adoptions, began the first embryo adoption program in the world. Called the Snowflake Program, abandoned embryos are adopted by couples and the woman will have the embryo implanted in her uterus. Over 3,000 children have been born through this initiative. Federally funded in previous years, it has been targeted for defunding by the current Administration. Whether it will survive without federal funding remains to be seen.
Artificial insemination has been around for almost a decade longer than IVF, and recent reports have exposed the underbelly of ART procedures that involve anonymous sperm donors. In a September 5, 2011 New York Times article entitled, “One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring,” the writer reported what seemed impossible: a child conceived by donated sperm has over 150 half-siblings. As reported, Cynthia Daily, who had used a sperm bank to conceive her son, started an on-line group to track the children her donor had fathered. Over the years the list grew and grew. Ms. Daily, who vacations with other families who used the same donor, is quoted as saying, “It’s wild when we see them all together—they all look alike.”
Other parents, donors, and medical experts are not so lighthearted about the situation. The U.S. has no regulation on the number of times a man can sell his sperm to a particular sperm bank. A sperm bank is under no limitations on how many sperm can be sold in a certain geographic area. Sperm is donated anonymously and the most a sperm purchaser has is an identification number. The sperm banks do not track purchasers. Online volunteer registries are now showing that many half-siblings live within a close geographic area. This news raises concern of the possibility of “accidental incest” or a faster proliferation of rare diseases through the general population than would otherwise occur.
The government’s failure to require extensive testing of donors has placed children at risk of injury or death. Sperm donors are tested for garden-variety genetic disorders and illnesses, but not for rare ones. In July 2011, ABC News reported on Tyler Blackwell, a 15-year-old, who became curious about his donor father. He located and contacted his father, but the father never responded to Tyler’s request to meet him. A relative, researching the family tree, did contact Tyler and told him that the donor father, still living, had an aortic heart defect. Tyler was tested, and discovered that he, too, had the defect that could have killed him at any moment. According to the article, the donor also had a connective tissue disorder, but had never notified the three sperm banks that had bought his sperm. Other children were not so fortunate.
In 2009, ABC News reported on a case of a sperm donor siring 24 children. The donor had a genetic heart condition known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). Nine of the children inherited the genetic mutation for the disorder, one had functional limitations, one had palpitations, and one died at the age of two, awaiting a heart transplant. The government’s failure to require recordkeeping of egg purchasers has also hurt children. In 2008, an egg donor died of cancer at the age of 29. The young woman had donated to one egg bank three times.
After the woman’s death, her mother contacted the egg broker who bought her eggs, so that he, in turn, could contact the affected children. Unfortunately, these children will never know of their genetic link to cancer. The egg broker had destroyed the records. IVF’s Link to Eugenics The term “eugenics” was first coined in 1883 by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton defined eugenics as “the science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race; also with those that develop them to the utmost advantage.” Although initially enthusiastic, the public and public officials lost their penchant for the movement later, as World War II images of the Holocaust appeared on the front pages of daily newspapers.
Many believed that the movement had died by the middle of the 20th Century. In fact, many of the organizations, including the Eugenics Society, continued to function, attracting scientists, politicians, and ordinary citizens to their membership. The organizations quietly promoted their cause under the banners of reproductive freedom and patient autonomy. Scientific advancements in reproductive techniques continued as well. In the 1970s, a British scientist named Robert Edwards invented IVF, and in 1978, attracting worldwide attention, the first “test tube baby” was born. The details about the scientist missed the headlines: Robert Edwards served as President of the Eugenics Society for 20 years. In 1999, he startled some in the scientific community when he matter-of-factly predicted that, “soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child which carries the heavy burden of genetic disease.” By the 1980s, even before Edward’s startling revelation, some scientists saw the eugenics direction that IVF technology was taking.
A leading French IVF specialist, Jacques Testart, cautioned that IVF technology could lead to the practices of screening embryos for genetic disease or for sex selection In 1986, Testart denounced further development of IVF technology, rather than take the risk that the technology would be used for such eugenics purposes. Paid no heed, Testart’s predictions have become reality. In the late 1980s, using research from Robert Edwards and David Gardner in the 1960s, scientists invented a technique to test embryos for genetic disorder. Called “Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis” (PGD), the technique requires the removal of one cell from the embryo and the DNA is removed from the embryo for genetic testing. If the embryo has the qualities desired by the parents, it is implanted in the woman’s womb.
Most developed countries restrict or ban PGD. According to one report, only 13 out of 53 countries, including the U.S., do not. According to the Center for Genetics and Society, three-quarters of U.S. IVF clinics offer PGD, and all of the large clinics offer the service. PGD can be used to select embryos free of genetic diseases that may cause birth defects, as well as to select embryos free of a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s Disease, polycystic kidney disease, and certain types of cancers. The technology has also been used to produce “savior siblings,” a term used to describe a child who is created for the sole purpose of saving the other sibling. In the U.S., most shockingly, parents are now purchasing “designer babies.” A Los Angeles clinic, called The Fertility Institute, uses PGD to provide parents with the opportunity to choose the desired traits of their child, including sex and eye color. The clinic’s director, Jeff Steinberg was on the team that produced the first IVF baby in 1978. Despite severe criticism from the medical community, Steinberg remains undeterred. The Fertility Institutes has offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Mexico.
In 1809, before a group in Maryland, former President Thomas Jefferson said the following: “The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government.” For a couple to be told they will never be able to have a child can be the most devastating news they will ever receive. Desperate, they will do anything to bring a new life into the world, but good government should never allow a noble end to justify an ethically questionable means. Yet, through inaction, government has done just that. Politicians have done nothing as young, college-aged women and men are being lured into harvesting their eggs and sperm in exchange for money. There are no mandatory warnings on the health risks for these women or mandatory information about the potential numbers of children they will produce.
There are no mandatory warnings to couples, so desperately wanting to have a child, about the health risks of carrying a baby produced by IVF or the health risks to the child they will produce. Furthermore, the government has sat idly by while baby business industrialists have encouraged parents to abandon countless unborn children before implantation and destroy them after implantation in the name of “reproductive choice,” allowing medical technology to advance eugenics and commodify human life. This country’s founding documents recognized that man possesses an inalienable right to liberty. Liberty, however, does not mean the right to do as one chooses. According to the renowned historian Russell Kirk, the founding fathers viewed unrestrained liberty as just as great a threat to freedom as unrestrained tyranny. As Kirk so aptly states in his book, The American Cause, “The American cause is not the cause of a revolutionary thirst for demolishing all obstacles to anarchic self-gratification.” Liberty must be tempered with moral absolutes, the most important of which is the recognition of the dignity of the human person.
Americans must demand that politicians no longer remain on bended knee before the altar of “reproductive choice,” and no longer allow the baby business industrialists to continue to profit while exploiting citizens. Politicians must re-examine whether the current practice of ART, which harms desperate individuals and destroys the most innocent of human life, should be allowed to continue. Perhaps, upon examination, they will rightly conclude that it should not. v