Motherhood at a Price

IVF Is Proving Perilous

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, OCT. 28, 2011 ( Even as in vitro fertilization treatments are being sought by growing numbers of women, more and more evidence is surfacing to confirm the downsides of its use.

Canadian doctor John Barrett described what he termed an «epidemic of multiple births, largely as a result of IVF,» the National Post newspaper reported Sept. 22.

«What the IVF industry is doing is creating a population of sick babies … that is impacting all society,» he said. 

The number of multiple births in Canada increased by 45% to almost 12,000 a year in the period 1991 to 2008, according to the article, citing data from Statistics Canada.

In a further article on IVF on Sept. 26 the National Post reported that it is linked to rare genetic disorders. 

Addressing a conference on fertility Dr. Rosanna Weksberg said that babies born as a result of IVF are up to 10 times more likely to have genetic problems. While she affirmed her support for the use of IVF, Weskberg also said she is seeing many IVF children with rare disorders.

She added there is evidence that IVF babies are more likely to be born at a low weight.

The cause of this increased risk of genetic problems is unknown, but according to Weksberg it could well be a combination of the infertility problems of the parents, together with the fertility treatments themselves.

In cases where outside donors are involved, other problems for IVF children can come about due to their lack of knowledge of any medical issues of their biological parent.


In Australia a television station recently ran a story about a woman conceived using donor sperm, who now has inheritable bowel cancer, which was not from her mother.

According to a report published Sept.5 by the British BioNews service, the woman cannot obtain any information about her father, nor can she contact the other eight half-siblings, due to the fact that at the time of their conception the identity of donors was kept secret.

A number of Australian states have now changed the law to require donors to consent to the release of their information, but the change is not retrospective.

A similar problem was reported by American ABC News on July 21. Rebecca Blackwell and her 15-year-old son Tyler were trying to track down his sperm donor father and while he did not respond to their requests for information his sister did tell them that her brother had an inheritable aortic heart defect.

They also found out that Tyler had inherited this condition, which could kill him without warning. He later had an operation, but faces the need for continual monitoring for the rest of his life.

Tyler’s father donated sperm at three clinics, fathering at least 24 children. He did not tell any of them about his health problems, which also include Marfan’s syndrome, a tissue disorder.

Other negative consequences come about when a donor’s sperm has been used very frequently. The concern is that some of the children, ignorant of who their father is, could enter into an incestuous relationship.

One British sperm donor has fathered children in 17 families, the Sunday Times reported, Sept. 18.

Official guidelines put a limit at 10, but the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has admitted there have been other breaches as well. Moreover, they also don’t know how many times the rules have been broken.

«There is a real danger in a small country like the UK for donor-conceived children to meet up unknowingly with half-siblings,» said Josephine Quintavalle, of the Comment on Reproductive Ethics.

While the United States is a lot bigger than England the problem of multiple IVF offspring from the same donor is significant. 

One notable case highlighted in a report published Sept. 5 by the New York Times told of a man who has up to now fathered 150 children. While this is an extreme example the article said that there are many other cases of donors fathering 50 or more children.

«We have more rules that go into place when you buy a used car than when you buy sperm,» said Debora L. Spar, author of «The Baby Business: How Money, Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception.» 

According to the New York Times there is no certain data on how many children are born involving the use of sperm donors. There are various estimates, however, ranging from 30,000 to 60,000.


It’s not just the babies who are at risk. An analysis of existing studies found that women who undergo IVF have a higher risk, as much as 40% in some cases, of a serious complication during pregnancy, London’s Telegraph newspaper reported Oct. 20.

It is thought that the process involving the initial development of the embryo outside the mother’s body leads to a poor development of the placenta later on. Another cause is that the women tend to be older and to have health problems.

Some IVF treatments involve the donation of ova from another woman. Concern was recently expressed that the large number of ova being taken from some donors puts them at risk, the Sunday Times reported Oct. 23.

In addition to problems such as mood swings, headaches and tiredness, the hormones injected into donors can lead to a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, causing blood clots and kidney damage and even death in some cases.

Data from the HFEA show that in one case as many as 85 ova were taken from one donor. Others had large numbers removed, from 50 up to 70.

These worries come at a time when fertility authority has increased — from £250 to £750 ($400 to $1,200) — the amount an ova donor can be paid, the Independent newspaper reported, Oct. 20.

The move came as clinics suffer from a shortage of donors. In part this came about due to donor anonymity being removed in 2005. 

«This is a disgraceful decision that puts young women’s health at risk,» declared David King, director of Human Genetics Alert. A £750 payment is a strong incentive to university students who are struggling to pay their fees, he said.

Apart from health risks the clinics sometimes make mistakes, which are on the rise in Britain, according to an Aug. 13 article published by the Daily Mail.

Figures from the HFEA reveal that 564 serious errors or near misses occurred at clinics in Britain in 2010. This is three times the 2007 number.

The mistakes include injecting the wrong sperm into an ova, embryos accidentally being destroyed, and the wrong embryos being implanted into women.

There has only been a slight increase in the number of IVF treatments in recent years, so the sharp increase in mistakes is not due to higher numbers of cases.

Earlier, in a July 22 article, the Daily Mail reported that hundreds of thousands of embryos are thrown away by clinics. 

More than 30 human embryos are created for every successful birth by IVF, according to figures published by the Department of Health. 

The information revealed that since 1991 more than 3 million embryos have been created by IVF, with fewer than 100,000 births resulting.

According to the Daily Mail around 1.5 million were discarded in the course of treatment and more than 100,000 were given for research in destructive experiments.

The opposition of the Catholic Church to the use of IVF is well known, but you don’t have to be a Catholic to be very concerned over the immense human cost involved in these procedures.

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