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Further Reading

Casualty Report

IVF & Its Victims

by Marcia Segelstein

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 36

The definition of IVF (in vitro fertilization) according to the Mayo Clinic:

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a complex series of procedures used to treat fertility or genetic problems and assist with the conception of a child. During IVF, mature eggs are collected (retrieved) from your ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. Then the fertilized egg (embryo) or eggs are implanted in your uterus. One cycle of IVF takes about two weeks.

IVF is the most effective form of assisted reproductive technology. The procedure can be done using your own eggs and your partner's sperm. Or IVF may involve eggs, sperm or embryos from a known or anonymous donor. In some cases, a gestational carrier—a woman who has an embryo implanted in her uterus—might be used.

Your chances of having a healthy baby using IVF depend on many factors, such as your age and the cause of infertility. In addition, IVF can be time-consuming, expensive and invasive. If more than one embryo is implanted in your uterus, IVF can result in a pregnancy with more than one fetus (multiple pregnancy).

Cold Hard Facts from Just the U.K.

By some estimates, 24 embryos are destroyed or frozen for every one IVF baby born. Because Great Britain has an agency that oversees its fertility industry, statistics from the U.K. are easier to come by than in the U.S. In 2012, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which has been keeping records related to IVF since 1991, released the following data for the United Kingdom alone:

From 1991 through 2012:

• A total of 3,546,818 human embryos were created.

• Of those, only 235,480 "gestational sacs" (i.e., successful implants) were produced.

• 93 percent of all embryos created—more than 3.3 million—never generated a pregnancy.

• A total of 1,388,443 embryos were implanted in the hope of starting a pregnancy, but only about 1 in 6 were successful.

839,325 were put into storage for future use; 2,071 were stored for donation to others; and 5,876 were set aside for scientific research.

• Over 1.7 million embryos created in vitro have been discarded.

1,691,090 were discarded unused, and 23,480 were discarded after being removed from storage.

In the Beginning . . .

The first person born using IVF technology was Louise Brown, famously called the world's first "test-tube baby." In that case, an egg was removed from her mother's ovaries and mixed with her father's sperm in a petri dish. Two days later the fertilized egg was implanted. That was in 1978. Since then it's estimated that five million babies have been born worldwide using IVF. Its victims, however, are harder to number.

"Selective Reduction" & "Leftovers"

The use of IVF routinely results in the fertilization of multiple embryos. Couples often wind up with more fertilized eggs than can be implanted. Those "leftovers" are usually frozen. Embryos are more likely to implant successfully when transferred to the mother's womb in batches, which often results in three or four babies. These multiple pregnancies are often then "reduced" through abortion.

Morning-After Moral Dilemmas

According to the New York Times there may be one million embryos currently being kept in storage facilities in the U.S., with many of the "owners" unsure what to do with them. Some people donate their embryos to other couples, while others stop paying the storage fees (which can run between $300 and $1,200 a year) and leave it to the clinic workers to decide what to do. Still others choose a different route:

Some people, saying they were troubled to be destroying a potential child, have created their own disposal ceremony—or, in a procedure known as compassionate transfer, have had a doctor place the embryos in the womb of the woman who made them at a time of the month when she will not become pregnant. (Emphasis added)

Other Complicating Factors

Beyond the mind-boggling scope of all the "extra" human beings currently preserved in silver tanks of liquid nitrogen around the world, and the horror of the millions destroyed, there are other medical and ethical issues. Children conceived through IVF have higher rates of birth defects and low birth weight than children conceived naturally, and they are more likely to be born prematurely.

Egg and sperm donation, often part of the IVF process—especially for older women whose eggs are no longer viable and for homosexual couples—creates its own set of physical and psychological issues for the children involved.

The use of surrogates to carry IVF-conceived children is growing, and often leads to legal and ethical quandaries.

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