A Bad Week of Press for Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART)

frozenembryoIf you are like me (you probably aren’t) and have your google alerts set for “egg donation,” “sperm donation,” and “surrogacy,” you will have seen that it was a bad press week for the field of reproductive medicine. Here are several stories that caught my eye.

Risks to Mother and Child

The Daily Mail reports on a new study that shows “a threefold higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and an even higher risk of pre-eclampsia” in women who use donor eggs in order to conceive.

Many of us who follow assisted reproductive medicine already knew about this risk, but this is a new study and it underscores the maternal risks. Another recent study that came out in the Journal of Immunology stated, “egg donation pregnancies are associated with a higher incidence of pregnancy-induced hypertension and placental pathology. Pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy-specific disease . . . remains the leading cause of maternal and perinatal mortality and morbidity.”

This study also reported that similar risk is present when using donated sperm: “the risk of pre-eclampsia in donated spermatozoa is very high (18.2%).” In a regular monogamous relationship the woman typically becomes used to or accustomed to her husband’s sperm so that this risk is present with “foreign” sperm.

Risks to Child

The University of Copenhagen released the first large-scale study comparing mental disorders in children born to mothers naturally and to mothers with fertility problems. Dr. Allen Jensen reports that we should be aware of “the small, but potentially increased, risk of psychiatric disorders among the children born to women with fertility problems.” In addition, the study suggests “that 1.9% of children diagnosed with psychiatric disorders in Denmark are associated with the mother’s infertility.”

Risks to Your Finances

The big business of ART has always bothered me. People will spend tens of thousands of dollars in the hopes of getting a baby at the end of the road, only to come up broke, ill, and often without a baby. So much collateral damage!

The Australian press really nails the corruption of medicine in exchange for profits. Writing about ways in which fertility clinics exploit couples desperately trying to have a baby, the article states, “To an IVF business, patients are commercial revenue units as much as people. Women’s ticking biological clocks mean strong investor returns. In terms of revenue and profitability, the more cycles and services provided by fertility specialists and ART companies the better. If a cycle results in a live birth that’s merely incidental in bottom line terms, as trying matters more than the outcome.”

It’s time for the industry, the brokers, and the fertility doctors to come clean. Until then, I am glad to see this sort of news exposing the truth so that the public can be better informed and so that those desperate for a child might be able to make more well-informed decisions.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

Jennifer Lahl is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl has 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and in senior-level nursing management. Her writings have appeared in various publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBC, PBS, and NPR, and called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address egg trafficking. She serves on the North American Editorial Board for Ethics and Medicine and the Board of Reference for Joni Eareckson Tada’s Institute on Disability.