Postponed motherhood, with the help of IVF, is an increasingly common practice, but women may well be led to false assumptions regarding their chances of success.
This is one of the main points raised in a recently published book, “Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility, and the Pursuit of High-Tech Babies,” by Miriam Zoll (Interlink Books).
The book’s foreword, by Michele Goodwin, professor of law at Minnesota Law School, and Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, noted that according to one survey one out of every eight couples has some infertility problem.
Yet, they added: “Many do not realize the extent to which they are participating in a vast experiment, where evidence-based medicine has yet to establish a reasonable foothold.”
There is also the issue, they commented, of the use of financially disadvantaged women, especially in India, to act as surrogate mothers. Around 25,000 couples a year travel to India to utilize the services of women who are desperate for money.
As a self-declared member of the Late Boomer Generation, Zoll said: “From where we stood, science and technology was the new God, giving women, once considered over the hill a chance to start a family in middle age.”
Zoll married when she was 35 years old and initially wasn’t concerned about conceiving, she admitted. When she turned 40 she finally realized that it was time to think about motherhood. Her efforts to conceive using IVF were, however, unsuccessful.
The book describes in detail the emotional traumas and crises she and her husband went though after realizing they would not be able to have children.
“The path to parenthood through scientific means is littered with booby traps filled with snakes and burning oil,” she exclaimed after the third cycle of IVF finished with a miscarriage.
She also noted, after the failure of the fourth cycle of IVF, that the disappointments affected her relationship with her husband and their personal intimacy. “Sex for us now meant stress,” she said. “It meant needles and Petri dishes and stirrups. Sex was now associated with disappointment and guilt and pain,” she continued.
The failures of the IVF procedures led Zoll to consider donor eggs, but she admitted, “The surreal experience of using donor eggs reeked of high-technology playing God. It reeked of my own narcissism and our obsession to procreate,” she said.
She went on to choose two donors of eggs from an agency, both of them turned out to be infertile. Thousands and thousands of dollars later they were left with nothing.
“Over the last 35 years the powerful combination of reproductive medicines’ marketing strategies and the mainstream media’s tendency to overestimate the potential of new technologies has led to a global epidemic of misinformation about the age when women’s fertility naturally declines and about the power of modern medicine to reverse it,” she concluded.
Zoll’s experience received coverage in the New York Times: “Medical science has achieved great feats, improved and saved the lives of many,” she said in an opinion article published in the Sept. 12 edition, co-authored with Pamela Tsigninos. “But when it comes to assisted reproductive technologies, science fails far more often than is generally believed,” it added.
She noted that, according to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, there is a 77% global failure rate on assisted reproductive cycles.
“Once inside the surreal world of reproductive medicine, there is no obvious off-ramp; you keep at it as long as your bank account, health insurance or sanity holds out,” the article commented.
Then, there are the complications arising from the use of donors and surrogates. One article, published on July 18 in the Canadian newspaper the Ottawa Citizen, related the case of two lesbians, one of whom supplied the eggs, the other carried the baby, and the sperm was provided by an anonymous donor.
Who is the mother? Both the women want to be registered as the mother, but the local laws do not provide for that option.
Turning to the matter of the rights of donor-conceived children the web site Public Discourse published an article on Aug. 2 that talked about the creation of a class of people “who are manufactured.”
Slavery, Alana S. Newman, founder of the Anonymous Us Project, observed, is abolished and, “with it went the notion not only that you could own another human being, but also that you could separate a person from his biological kin.”
Moreover, it is illegal to neglect a child, even if it was conceived in an un-planned one-night stand. Yet now we allow surrogate motherhood and anonymous donors. “People should not be for sale,” she declared.
These doubts take place at a time when the number of children conceived as a result of IVF has doubled in the last decade, the New York Times reported Aug. 30. Also, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) ethics committee says it is “ethically acceptable” for clinics to deem embryos abandoned if at least five years have passed since contact with the couple, the National Post reported September 10, meaning that tens of thousands of frozen embryos are legitimate targets for death.
This information, plus the experiences of women like Zoll, show that the Catholic Church’s long-standing opposition to IVF is indeed well-founded.