• Analysis: The unknown consequences of IVF

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    MORAL issues aside, artificial reproduction is a tangled web.

    Using artificial reproduction techniques is often seen as the solution for couples who have problems conceiving, or for women who prefer to postpone pregnancy. Yet, apart from any moral judgments, there are considerable drawbacks with various aspects of IVF.

    When a woman wishes to postpone childbirth, freezing some of her eggs is often proposed as a way to ensure successful pregnancy in future years. This solution, however, is far from being uncomplicated.

    “Women in their late 30s and in their 40s are being given false hope that freezing their eggs gives them a good chance of having children, according to leading fertility experts,” England’s Observer newspaper reported October 25.

    Women do not know enough about the success rates regarding egg freezing, said Melanie Davies a fertility expert at University College London hospital.

    Adam Balen, chair of the British Fertility Society, told the Observer that women who are in their late 30s and in their 40s are being given “false hope” that freezing their eggs gives them a good chance of having children

    According to the article the number of women freezing their eggs is rising sharply, from 2,476 in 2008, to 7,047 in 2013.

    In addition official data showed that between 2008 and mid-2013 there were only 41 births from frozen eggs. Only 13% of embryos transferred from frozen eggs that were collected and fertilized led to a successful pregnancy.

    Postponing motherhood
    Is egg freezing just another way to tell women they can’t have both a career and a family, asked Kirsty Oswald, writing on October 26 for BioNews. She recalled how in recent times both Apple and Facebook agreed to pay for egg freezing for female employees.

    Oswald reported on a recent congress held on the subject of egg freezing, organized by the Progress Educational Trust. One of the speakers, Dr Imogen Goold, associate professor of Law at Oxford University, warned that we could slide from allowing egg freezing to expecting women to do it.

    The low success rate of IVF using frozen eggs was the subject of an article published August 11 by London’s Telegraph newspaper.

    According to researchers from New York’s Center for Human Reproduction women using fresh eggs had a 56% of becoming mothers, but this declined to 47% when frozen eggs were used.

    There are significant problems even when the women freezing their eggs are young, with lower rates of success in any resulting pregnancies.

    Another issue related to eggs is paying women for donating their eggs for use by other couples. An October 16 article published in the New York Times reported that a group of women is bringing a lawsuit arguing that it is inappropriate to pay a woman more than $10,000 for her eggs.

    The $10,000 limit stems from non-binding guidelines established in 2000 by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. In recent years the limit is increasingly being ignored.

    With more women postponing motherhood, the demand, and the price, of donor eggs has risen. Donor eggs were used in nearly 20,000 cases in 2012, the article said, compared to less than 12,000 a decade ago.

    The article also mentioned that there is concern over the use of high doses of hormones that women who donate eggs must take and whether this could increase the risk of cancer or cause future infertility.

    The Wall Street Journal also reported, on July 26, on the pending lawsuit. “The money entices women to take on risks that they probably wouldn’t otherwise,” said Leah Campbell, who became infertile after twice donating eggs.

    Others argued in favor of allowing a free market and alleged that any limits on payment amounts to illegal price-fixing.

    Raising expectations
    Worries about eugenics also influence the debate on whether to limit payments. “It’s a concern about eugenics, that women will pay more for eggs from an Ivy League grad,” said John Robertson, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Texas to the Wall Street Journal.

    Doubts about eugenics were the topic of a July 12 article published by the Center for Genetics and Society, It examined the use of DNA tests for egg donors and the desire by some couples for the perfect baby.

    One company, GenePeeks, uses a technique to sort genetic data from each parent into 1,000 different combinations to determine the best egg-sperm match.

    The method also has the potential to determine traits such as motor coordination, eye color, cognitive ability, and body weight.

    “When do you turn things into a medical issue, and how far do we let medicine go in terms of promoting people’s tastes?” asked Arthur Caplan, an ethicist at New York University.

    A subsequent August 2 article published by the Center for Genetics and Society questioned if the request for donor eggs with specific traits was leading to the commodification of both women and babies.

    The article centered on the case of India and speculated that the search for donors with desirable characteristics could reinforce prejudices and barriers of caste and wealth.

    A child should not be considered as if it were a piece of property, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 2378) warns, something that needs repeating in the current circumstances.

    © Innovative Media Inc.

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