Where have all the embryos gone?

Posted in Society at 16:26 by RjZ

According to IVF.net, a site dedicated to information on in vitro fertilization (IVF), more than 3 million babies have been born thanks to IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies since Louise Brown in 1978. Louise is the first test-tube baby.

According to that site, we’re up to 200,000 babies per year with nearly 600,000 IVF cycles per year. The Christian Medical and Dental Association tells us that modern methods are up to 20% effective. In other words, something like 1 million embryos are created for those 200,000 babies per year.

In 2000, there were just under 100,000 assisted reproductive procedures in the the U.S. alone. Also from that site:

Although limited variation existed by age, the majority of ART procedures involved transfer of >1 embryo. Among women aged <35 years, 96% of procedures involved transfer of >2 embryos, and 63% involved transfer of >3 embryos. For women aged >42 years, 86% involved transfer of >2 embryos, and 68% involved transfer of >3 embryos. Use of a gestational carrier or surrogate was <1% for all age groups.

That’s a load of unused embryos, each of which, according to George Bush “is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value.”

It turns out that most Christian ethicists are troubled, but very few seem to be able to come up with a clear statement. The Christian Medical & Dental Associations couldn’t say more than the Ethics Advisory Board of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare: “Clinical IVF and embryo transfer is justified morally only within the context of the marital bond, using “gametes obtained from lawfully married couples”

The Conservative Voice, a right-wing blog likes Senator Oran Hatch’s solution that life begins only in the womb and not in the petri-dish.

The Evangelical Outpost can’t help making disparaging remarks about people they are shocked to agree with, but essentially they maintain that IVF is destroying human life. Catholics agree with them. Lifeissues.net makes an impassioned plea for adoption and discourages IVF. It’s nice to see them being consistent on this issue, but what of their flock?

I could not find any data on the demographics of those 100,000 U. S. women who chose IVF to have children. It’s not normally appropriate to ask women what their political affiliation is during such a procedure, but it would be interesting to know how many women and couples are firmly opposed to having an abortion but were still somehow alright with a procedure that dooms embryos to a nearly certain death. At least one IVF blogger is also a born-again Christian, but doesn’t seem to address this issue. Michael Kinsley at Slate forcefully makes the point that pro-lifers are missing the point if they continue to support IVF.

Meanwhile, I will repeat Kinsley’s observation. Regardless of your views of where life begins and what to do with those embryos, it’s absolutely inconsistent for the individuals who are ‘pro-life’ to support in vitro fertilization if any embryos are not used. But then, rejecting another scientific advancement for the sake of a metaphysical idea (in this case, when and where life begins) would seem par for the course.


  1. tim r said,

    August 4, 2006 at 8:14

    I thought John Stewart had the best take on the stem cell veto on the Daily Show. The Daily Show interposed clips of Bush yakking about how “all life is sacred and therefore we can’t use innocent embryos for stem cell research” with clips of him saying that “about 30,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the war.” As Stewart dryly observed, moral absolutism is for domestic policy, not international policy—because some human lives are just more important than others.

  2. erin said,

    August 6, 2006 at 22:51

    i know a born again couple who has done ivf twice and they never mention the 10 (at least) precious souls that had to die so their little bundles of joy could exist. it’s very annoying.

    what baffles me even more for believers and non-believers is the need to have children at all. clearly i wasn’t wired with that primal need, so the fact that people will go through the cost and hassle of ivf repeatedly is astounding to me. i truly don’t understand it on any level.

    i also wonder how truly religious people can go through ivf from the prespective that “god answers prayers, but sometimes he says no.” how many times have i heard that? maybe god doesn’t want you to have children.

    i sound much more angry than i really am about all of this. i’m just truly perplexed.

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