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Manipulating Life

Concerns Over the Use of Artificial Fecundation

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, FEB. 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The recent news of the birth of octuplets to Nadya Suleman has given rise to concerns over how in vitro fecundation is being used.

On Jan. 26, Suleman, who is single, unemployed, and already has 6 children, gave birth to 6 boys and 2 girls, reported the Washington Post, Feb. 4. The news, the article noted, caused widespread concern over the lack of regulation of IVF clinics.

“You’ve got a virtually unregulated marketplace with tort law serving as regulation in the U.S,” David C. Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, told the Washington Post.

Nearly a third of IVF births in the United States result in twins or more, reported the New York Times on Feb. 12. In fact, in contrast to many other countries, there are no limits on how many embryos IVF clinics can implant in a woman’s womb in the United States.

The New York Times cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealing that in 1996, there were 64,681 IVF procedures performed in 330 clinics. According to the latest information available — no date was given in the article — the number of procedures has risen to 134,260 in more than 483 clinics across the country. In total, each year more than 50,000 children are born as a result of IVF procedures in the United States.

The birth of the octuplets is an example of irresponsible use of reproductive technology, said Scott B. Rae, fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, in a commentary posted Feb. 13 on the organization’s Web site. Such procedures put at risk both the health of the mother and the children, he commented.

Genetic dangers

Multiple births are far from the only issue associated with IVF. Shortly after the news of the octuplets the New York Times, on Feb.17, published a lengthy article on the genetic risks involved with the use of IVF.

Researchers are increasingly concerned over changes that might occur in embryos that are grown outside the womb for several days before being implanted. Some studies, the article observed, have found that there may be abnormal gene development and an increase in genetic disorders due to IVF.

The article cited a study published last November by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found an increase in some birth defects in babies conceived as a result of IVF.

The New York Times added that the findings are preliminary; nevertheless the article cited concerns by experts in the field. “There is a growing consensus in the clinical community that there are risks,” Richard M. Schultz, associate dean for the natural sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times.

Other studies also reveal worries over the consequences of IVF. Children born through IVF may be more prone to aggression and conduct problems as teenagers, reported the Australian newspaper, Oct. 21.

A study carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge and presented at a fertility conference in Brisbane, Australia, compared 26 IVF children with 38 kids who were adopted and 63 who were conceived naturally. A small difference in conduct problems was noted regarding the IVF children.

The following day the Australian newspaper published another article on the subject, reporting that mothers of IVF children experience greater difficulties in coping with the demands of motherhood.

A study sponsored by the Australian Research Council, IVF Australia and Melbourne IVF, found that women who conceive this way are more likely than other mothers to have postpartum problems.

In England, a July 30 report by the Telegraph newspaper said that IVF children are more likely to be born prematurely and to weigh less at birth.

A research team headed by Liv Bente Romundstad, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, examined more than 2,500 women who had conceived both naturally and through IVF and compared the results to more than 1 million natural conceptions.

The results showed that babies conceived through IVF were 31% more likely to die in the period before and after their birth. On average they were born two days earlier and were 26% more likely to be small for their age.

No limits

Another area of concern is how babies conceived through IVF are used as objects to satisfy the demands of parents. A Dec. 30 report by the London-based Telegraph newspaper said that a 70-year-old Indian woman who gave birth to a baby girl in November was already planning a second child.

Rajo Devi, 70, had a baby girl, Naveen Lohan, on Nov 28. Apparently now she wants a boy.

Rajo and her husband Bala Ram, went to the Hisar National Fertility Clinic for treatment after hearing how a 60-year-old woman had given birth to twins. Donor eggs from another woman were fertilized with Bala’s sperm and implanted into Rajo.

A further worrying tendency is the way children end up being left in family structures that are convoluted, to say the least. In Canada a court recently ruled on a dispute regarding a lesbian couple and a homosexual man who was their sperm donor, reported the National Post, Jan. 29.

According to the article the court ruled that a donor contract between the man and the couple is enforceable, thus opening the possibility for a child to have multiple parents when donors are involved.

The couple and the man signed a contract before the child was born, which gave him some rights as a sort of co-parent. Subsequent disputes between the couple and the man resulted in his access to the child being restricted, which the court has now restored.

Then, there was the news late last year that a 56-year-old woman gave birth to her triplet granddaughters, reported the Associated Press, Nov. 11. Jaci Dalenberg, from Ohio, agreed to be a surrogate mother for her daughter, Kim Coseno, and her husband, Joe.

Coseno had two children from a previous marriage but was unable to have another baby because of a hysterectomy. Coseno could still produce eggs, so they were fertilized with her new husband’s sperm and implanted in her mother’s womb. The girls were born on Oct. 11, more than two months premature.

Human dignity

“The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death,” said an instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published Dec. 8.

The document dealt with a number of bioethical issues related to human life.

“The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life,” observed the statement in paragraph No. 4.

Regarding techniques that assist fertility, the document clarified that they are not rejected on the grounds that they are artificial. The use of medicine and science is not rejected, but it is essential to evaluate them according to the dignity of the human person.

IVF, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith observed, frequently involves the destruction of embryos. As well, procreation is separated from the conjugal act of a husband and a wife.

“The Church recognizes the legitimacy of the desire for a child and understands the suffering of couples struggling with problems of fertility,” the document admitted.

Nevertheless, it continued, “The desire for a child cannot justify the ‘production’ of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived.”

In the current economic crisis consumerism is increasingly discredited, but when it comes to human life it seems that too often the consumer is king, to the detriment of human dignity.

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