Wednesday, October 9. 2013
This week the genetics world exploded with discussion about a new patent just issued by the U.S. Patent Office to a California company, 23andMe. 23andMe is a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company that offers genetic information to anyone who sends in a saliva sample and a fee.
23andMe was offered a patent on their inheritance calculator, a feature where prospective parents can figure out the likely traits their children will have. The controversy surrounds the patent's extension into the fertility industry where this technology could be used to screen donor egg and sperm to create a child with desired physical attributes.
Nature reports some of the options listed in the patent:
Figure 4 of the patent application lists the following alternative choices: “I prefer a child with”: “longest expected life span”/“least expected life cost of health care”/“least expected cumulative duration of hospitalization.” Figure 6 visualizes a choice between the “offspring’s possible traits” of “0% likely endurance athlete” and “100% likely sprinter.”
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Friday, September 20. 2013
Earlier this year, Dr. Robert Sparrow published a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics entitled "In Vitro Eugenics." In it, Sparrow explores the possibility of creating generations of human beings in the laboratory.
He explains that the stem cells from embryos could be used to make egg and sperm cells, which, in turn, could create more embryos.
This would bring human reproduction into the laboratory not just for one generation, but for generation after generation. Sparrow explains that these embryos would be "orphaned at conception." They "would have no genetic parents: There would be no living individual … who could be described as the genetic progenitor of such embryos."
Sparrow calls this new possibility in human reproduction "in vitro eugenics."
While this sounds like something that could only happen in science fiction, producing egg and sperm from stem cells is now a reality. Scientists have already accomplished this in mice and are discussing doing the same in humans.
Why would anyone want to create multiple human generations in a laboratory?
Sparrow suggests it could become a "method to bring into existence children with a desired genotype."
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register >>
Monday, June 10. 2013
It is undeniable that we humans have an innate desire to know from whom we came. Many people who are adopted or have only one parent will tell you that they feel they are missing a piece of a puzzle. Genealogy websites like Ancestry.com exist because of our fascination with our genetic ancestors. Every time I see an ad for Ancestry.com, a place where you "Find your ancestors’ stories" and "Discover yours," I feel that tug to find out more about my grandparents and great-grandparents. My daughter's junior year project for high school was a presentation and paper on the immigration of both sides of her family to America.
Now imagine if you were purposely denied one half of your story by a powerful industry that runs on anonymity. And what if when you pointed out the intentional injustice, you were told that you should shut-up and simply be grateful for your life.
This is the experience for many a child conceived from anonymous donor gametes. The following is a excerpt from testimony that Alana S. Newman, founder of AnonymousUs.org, gave to the California Assembly Committee on Health regarding AB460, a bill in the California legislature that would require insurers to offer coverage for infertility treatments even to same-sex couples where the relationships are, by nature, not fertile. Such treatments often require donor gametes. Alana is bravely standing up for the rights of those intentionally denied what she believes is a fundamental right: the right to a relationship with one's biological parents. She writes:
The facts of my conception are that my father was paid to abandon me. There is no dignity in that. I suffered from debilitating identity issues, mistrust of the opposite sex, hatred and condemnation of the opposite sex, feelings of objectification – like I only exist as a play – toy for others, and feeling like a science experiment.Very few people like to hear that their choices have devastating consequences for others. If there is a place where voices like Alana's need to be heard, it is the fertility machine. Both infertile couples and the fertility industry must hear what she is saying. The desire for a child does not trump the right of a child to know his or her biological parents.
Wait a minute. I have heard that before. Oh yes, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage.
Friday, May 17. 2013
This is so incredibly sad for so many reasons. There is really nothing else to say. (I have already expressed my concerns about uterine transplants here.) From the UK's Daily Mail:
A woman who was the first to have a successful womb transplant from a dead donor has had her pregnancy terminated after the embryo showed no heartbeat, doctors in Turkey have said.
I mourn the loss of this little one. Eternal rest grant unto him or her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him or her. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Wednesday, April 17. 2013
Part of being a blogger is learning that people, even ones on your side, will misread, misunderstand, and misrepresent what you are saying. Being human, many of us only read headlines, or skim through a piece missing the major points, or infer things that simply are not implied. Knowing this, I try not to let reactions to my posts get under my skin.
For some reason the reactions to yesterday's news about the pregnancy of the woman who underwent a uterus transplant really affected me. To recap, a woman born without a uterus was transplanted with a uterus from a deceased woman. She then underwent IVF and is now confirmed to be pregnant.
Many of the comments I have read state that the only thing wrong with this is the IVF. If she had gotten pregnant naturally this would be fine. I also read a lot of comments that compare a uterus transplant to a kidney or heart transplant. The thought is that if those are morally acceptable then this should be to.
I guess I am disheartened that many of the comments echo the sentiments of the rest of society: the emotional appeals to what the parents want with little thought to how a procedure affects the health and well-being of the child.
Let us think about this critically instead of emotionally.
A uterus transplant is not a necessary procedure. This woman was not going to die if she did not receive a womb. This is nothing like a kidney or heart transplant. The point was so that she could be pregnant evidenced by the fact that the uterus will be removed after the child is delivered.
Since the uterus came from a deceased woman, presumably no other lives were put at risk to retrieve the organ. This is not the case with a live uterus donor which is also being attempted. To put the health and safety of the otherwise healthy woman donating the uterus at risk to provide a organ that is not essential for life is not ethical.
Beyond the actual transplant, let us consider the child that is now being gestated in this transplanted uterus. This child was purposefully placed in a womb that is a potentially dangerous place. The mother has to take immunosuppressant drugs so she will not reject the uterus. As experts said there is significant risk of birth defects and pre-term labor here. The child was created in a lab and intentionally put at risk in an experimental womb just so that this woman could experience pregnancy.
Remember there is a PERSON in that womb whose life hangs in the balance. He or she could suffer life-long consequences. Is this treating him or her with the utmost respect deserving of every person?
Sure it would be nice if every woman with a deformed or malfunction uterus could get a replacement, but how many children do we need to put at risk to perfect this procedure? In other high-risk medical procedures like heart or kidney transplants, the possible reward outweighs the risk because the patient is already in a life-threatening situation. But with a uterus transplant there is no life-threatening illness to treat. Is it ethical to intentionally put the life of a child at risk for a non-life threatening problem?
There are a lot of medical advancements that we could have if we treated research subjects unethically. Let us not forget that the child is also a subject in this experiment. Are we treating him or her ethically or as a regrettable, but acceptable, causality if this fails?
I fear that the attitude toward this child is the same as all the children of artificial reproductive technologies (ART) that came before. The priority is what the parents want. The health and safety of the child is secondary. A recent review of ART in the Journal of Reproductive BioMedicine Online, written by scientists in the field, reiterates that idea that in the fertility industry, many have a "let's see if it works and ask questions about safety later" attitude. Is that what is happening here?
I think if we continue on with this perspective where the health and safety of the next generation is not the first priority, things like "in vitro eugenics" are sure to follow. Dr. Sparrow is right that concerns about safety are unlikely to stop the creation of generations of embryos in the lab because, so far, concerns about the children hasn't stopped any ART. It is up to us to be the voice of the voiceless.
I realize that the Catholic Church has not officially come out against uterus transplants, but that does not mean we cannot think critically about it and come to the conclusion that this is unethical. I often ask myself these questions when evaluating advances in biotechnology. I think it applies here:
Does this technology disrespect or unnecessarily endanger human life at any point from the very beginning to natural death? Does it reduce human life to a biological commodity? Does it require that a human organism be used or destroyed?
I have come to the conclusion that the uterus transplant does intentionally endanger the life of an innocent child simply so a woman can be pregnant. I know others disagree. I just want to make sure that the discussions surrounding this procedure are grounded in the MOST important consideration, the health and well-being of the child, and not in the emotional appeal to what adults desire.
Tuesday, April 16. 2013
Doctors have announced that the woman that received a womb transplant is now pregnant. From RedOrbit:
The Turkish woman who, two years ago, became the first person in the world to have a successful womb transplant from a deceased donor is pregnant, various media outlets are reporting.Now it is time to pray for that child. Pray that he or she is born healthy with no complications. We need to pray because even the doctors admit that things may go wrong:
“Experts however warn the pregnancy carries several health risks to the patient as well as to the baby, including birth defects due to the use of immunosuppressive drugs as well as preterm delivery.”I think herein lies the problem. This child is the experiment, not part of an experiment, but is the actual experiment. Why else would you transplant a uterus to a woman who was born without one? It is not so she can menstruate for a few years. It is so she can gestate a baby. A baby that had his or her start in a laboratory not in a loving embrace.
The idea of a child as the experiment is not new. We have been experimenting with the next generation without their consent for a long time. We are still experimenting on them. The fact is we have no idea what the long-term physical and emotional effects of IVF, PGD, ICSI or other artificial reproductive technologies (ART) even are and yet we continue on. This uterus transplant is no different.
The avant-garde attitude toward the creation of children will continue on with the health and well-being of the children produced as an after-thought. Case in point, Dr. Robert Sparrow's paper "In vitro eugenics" in the Journal of Medical Ethics where he explores possibility of creating embryos in the lab, then using the stem cells from those embryos to create egg and sperm cells, and then using those gametes to create more embryos. Essentially, this would take human reproduction into the laboratory not just for one generation, but for generation after generation. These embryos would be "orphaned at conception." Unfortunately, this technology of producing egg and sperm from stem cells is no longer science fiction. Scientists have already accomplished this in mice and are discussing and developing strategies to doing the same in humans.
Sparrow points out that safety concerns for the children produced with "in vitro eugenics" will likely not prevent the practice because frankly we have had little concern for safety in any previous ART technique. Sparrow writes:
However, there are a number of reasons to believe that concerns about safety and risk are unlikely to prove an insurmountable barrier to the ethical creation of designer babies by in vitro eugenics. To begin with, as I noted above, these concerns arise regarding every new reproductive technology involving the manipulation of embryos. Until a generation of children produced by IVF (or intracytoplasmic sperm injection or cytoplasmic transfer) have lived out their natural lifespan, we will not know whether IVF (or any of these other technologies) is safe—and we certainly did not know this at the time at which those technologies were first trialled. Thus, in vitro eugenics would not raise any issues we have not confronted before.I think we can add uterus transplant from a deceased donor to his list of techniques where we did not know the whether the technique was "safe" before we tried it.
Let me provide an alternative way to view children. A view where children are to be treated with the utmost respect, not just from birth, but from conception. A view of children as the beautiful fruit of the love between a husband and wife not as the product of technological intervention. Let me quote Donum Vitae:
The child is not an object to which one has a right, nor can he be considered as an object of ownership: rather, a child is a gift, “the supreme gift” and the most gratuitous gift of marriage, and is a living testimony of the mutual giving of his parents.And then Charter for Health Care Workers:
"The desire for a child, sincere and intense though it be, by the spouses, does not legitimize recourse to techniques which are contrary to the truth of human procreation and to the dignity of the new human being. The desire for a child gives no right to have a child. The latter is a person, with the dignity of a 'subject.' As such, it cannot be desired as an 'object.' The fact is that the child is a subject of rights: the child has the right to be conceived only with full respect for its personhood."I think it time we listen to the wisdom of the Catholic Church on procreation. Otherwise "in vitro eugenics" may only be the first in the long line of unethical techniques that treat children as objects and not as the gifts that they truly are.
Sunday, October 21. 2012
Fame Daddy, the company that says it was going to begin selling celebrity sperm to desperate couples, is a comedy hoax. YAAAYYY! Gotta love those Brits lampooning society's crass commercialization of procreation. From Time:
A British television network admitted Thursday that it fell for an actor pretending to be the CEO of Fame Daddy, allegedly a soon-to-be-launched paternity matching service that claims to have “scoured the globe” for well-known celebrities that have “agreed to share their genetic inheritance for the benefit of our clients…and mankind.”It think it says a lot about how society views children that many of us, the British media and myself included, found this credible.
Here is a tongue-in-cheek commercial for Fame Daddy. (Did I mention how much I love British humour?)
Wednesday, October 17. 2012
The Church warned us if we separated procreation from the physical act of love between a husband and wife, children would become commodities, man-made objects to be ordered from a menu to satisfy the whim of the parents. As William E. May so eloquently wrote:
"When a child is begotten through the conjugal act, he comes to be as a gift from God, a gift crowning the spouse's mutual gift of themsleves to each other. When a child is 'produced' it comes to be, not as a gift from God, which in truth it is, but as a product of human control."And here is yet another in a long line of "services" the fertility industry is willing to provide to make children even more a product to order to specifications. A company called Fame Daddy is poised to provide women with sperm from famous men at a premium price. From The Telegraph:
Fame Daddy will offer would-be-mothers “top quality celebrity surrogate fathers” when it launches next February, according to Dan Richards, its chief executive.Now Fame Daddy is not exactly up an running yet, so here is hoping this venture never gets off the ground. I am not normally one to hope that an entrepreneur fails, but when they say something like this, I can't help myself:
"To be able to harvest potential from the global gene pool, rather than from the more limited selection of the men she comes into direct contact with, is a major evolutionary leap for women."Evolutionary leap for women? Seriously? Ordering famous sperm from some celebrity chaser and raising a child to never know his or her father? I call that a step backward, not forward, for both her AND the child. And what happens when the child is not a rock star or star footballer or billionaire banker? Does mom get to sue for a "defective product"? Evolutionary leap indeed.
Hat Tip: Matt Swaim
Friday, September 14. 2012
In everything there is the Hollywood version, and then there is the reality. Unfortunately these days no one seems to be able to tell the difference. Which is why I find NBC's "The New Normal" so disturbing.
"The New Normal" depicts a gay couple hiring a surrogate to carry a child for them. With lines sugar-coating the business transaction like, "A family is a family and love is love," and "[The surrogate's] just like an easy bake oven, except with no legal rights to the cupcake," the whole of America will be getting the warm-fuzzies just thinking about how great surrogacy is for everyone involved. The sweet, doe-eyed, single mother will get money to make her bio daughter's life better and the loving gay couple will get to shop for baby clothes. (I think I feel a tear coming on...never mind...something my kid threw just hit me in the eye.)
But in the Hollywood version there will be one voice missing. "The New Normal" will likely ignore the one voice that should be heard above all the others. The one voice that will tell you that "The New Normal" is far from normal and should never be considered normal.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Wednesday, September 12. 2012
Epigenetics is a game changer. What is epigenetics? It is a field of study that looks at how and why genes are turned on and off. Scientists are discovering that our genetics are not simply determined by the sequence of DNA we inherit from our parents. We also can inherit their pattern of gene expression; which of their genes are turned on or off. Gene expression can be influenced by environment: what we eat, our level of stress, whether we exercise, our exposure to toxins. And modern science is telling us that the changes in gene expression that occur because of the way we choose to live our lives, can be inherited not just by our children, but also by our grandchildren.
Scientists are discovering the same about the diet and environment of men, who naturally produce sperm their entire lives. The New York Times has a piece called "Why Fathers Really Matter" highlighting the importance of epigenetics and cleaning living for men:
Doctors have been telling men for years that smoking, drinking and recreational drugs can lower the quality of their sperm. What doctors should probably add is that the health of unborn children can be affected by what and how much men eat; the toxins they absorb; the traumas they endure; their poverty or powerlessness; and their age at the time of conception. In other words, what a man needs to know is that his life experience leaves biological traces on his children. Even more astonishingly, those children may pass those traces along to their children....So parents, tell your sons to eat healthy, and stay away from drugs and excessive alcohol. The health of their children and grandchildren may depend on it. The article also has an interesting correlation between paternal age and autism and asks if the rise in autism cases is a direct result of the rise of older fathers.
But what is missing from the mainstream discussion of epigeneics is a closer look at IVF. Whether it is being conceived in a dish, or the egg and sperm used in the process, children conceived with IVF have been shown to have different patterns of gene expression that those conceived naturally. Some scientists speculate that these changes may put IVF children at greater risk of diabetes and obesity. And if epigenetic changes in sperm and egg can be passed on to future generations, then it is likely the epigenetic differences in IVF children are ones they will pass on to their children and grandchildren.
So IVF is not just about the child couples so desperately want to hold. In today's reproductive Brave New World, where natural biology is capriciously thrown overboard in favor of parental choice, the choices parents make in creating the next generation may be choices that extend to their grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Thursday, September 6. 2012
Biological colonialism is on the rise. Rich couples from western nations hiring poor Indian women to be surrogates. It seems like a win-win. The infertile couple gets the child they so desperately want on the cheap and the surrogates make more money than they can hope to make in such a short time. But look closer and you find a disturbing western attitude that the poor, dark, and different women are not people, but vessels in which to grow the next generation; natural resources to be exploited to continue on the western blood line.
No where is this attitude more apparent that in this Daily Mail interview with a British woman Octavia who has hired a surrogate in India because commercial surrogacy is illegal in Britain.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Tuesday, August 28. 2012
They have to come here because sex selection using IVF and preimplantation genetic diagnosis is illegal where they live. It needs to be illegal in America as well. Here is why. The Telegraph reports:
They are spending up to £30,000 a time on trips to New York, to guarantee a boy or a girl, according to a clinic.So Dr. Steinberg is tossing out girl embryos in favor of boys for his Asian clients 97% of the time. There is a war on women in the United States, it is just not the war that people think it is.
Wednesday, June 13. 2012
The first gay couple in the UK to be recognized as parents on a birth certificate have come to America to ensure they have a girl. Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow went to a U.S. IVF clinic and have hired a surrogate mother at the cost of £65,000 to "balance" their family with another girl. They have to travel to the Brave New United States because, like in most sensible countries, the sex selection is illegal in the UK. From The Daily Mail:
Personally, I think dressing your kids in lederhosen and a dirndl to recreate the Von Trapps in a family photo might just be considered child abuse.
Continue reading at Creative Minority >>
Tuesday, June 12. 2012
The Church has always rejected surrogacy and for very good reason. It objectifies both the woman whose womb has been rented and the child for whom a contract has been made for delivery. Nowhere is this arrangement more exploitive than when rich westerners go to places like India and get a uterus on the cheap. Not only are the embryos sometimes shipped by FedEx overseas to be transferred to a woman the parents have never actually met, but the dangers to the surrogate are substantial. Because she is usually poor and "working" to help support her family by renting out her body, the contract she signs often places the health and well-being of the child above her own, something that would not happen with a Western surrogate.
The media often portray international surrogacy as a win-win for all involved and as empowering poor women. Those who have researched the practice know this is not the case. (I recommend Scott Carney's Red Market:On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers for a look into surrogacy and other body markets.) Finally someone is making sense regarding the need to protect poor women who are surrogates. Kishwar Desai writes in The Guardian:
India's surrogate mothers are risking their lives. They urgently need protectionOf course the rich westerners rationalize all day long about how using these poor women to get the child they so desperately want is OK. This exchange between Megan, a woman who used an Indian surrogate and a donor egg to have a child of her choosing (I mean why not adopt? Seriously.) and Wesley J. Smith who argued that commercial surrogacy should be outlawed is a perfect example:
Wednesday, February 22. 2012
A couple in Texas is suing a sperm bank in New England because their child has cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a devastating disease that is caused by mutations in the CFTR gene. People with cystic fibrosis have mutations in both their copies of the CFTR gene; one mutation from their father and one mutation from their mother. The Kretchmars are suing because the sperm they purchased to have their son, Jaxon, carried a cystic fibrosis mutation. So did Mrs. Kretchmar. Now Jaxon has CF. From CBSDFW.com:
The Kretchmar home is filled with the hum of a breathing machine and the sounds of Mario racing around a television screen watched by 22-month old Jaxon.There is so much going on here it is almost too much to analyze. (Honestly, every time I read this I trip over the fact that the sperm donor was labeled as "Catholic.") Setting the commodification of life aside, the harsh reality is there are no guarantees when it comes to genetics.
I have tested people for cystic fibrosis for years. There are over 1000 (and counting) known mutations in the CFTR gene that can cause cystic fibrosis. Most labs only test for the 70 most common ones. The other mutations are considered private family mutations. I am sure there are some mutations in minority populations that have yet to even be documented. It is quite possible that the sperm donor carries a mutation not on the normal panels for CF testing.
There are many other genetic diseases like CF where a limited number of the most common mutations are part of the testing. Anything else maybe missed. So a "negative" in genetics does not mean you are not a carrier for some genetic disease. It means that you are not carrying any of the specific mutations the lab tests for.
Most of us are carriers of some devastating genetic disorder and we don't know it. (In the case of CF, 1 in 25 Caucasians in a carrier.) There is absolutely no way any sperm or egg bank could provide "disease-free" gametes.
But in this culture where children are ordered up to our specifications, we want to have recourse when the product we are sold is "defective." I feel terrible for the Kretchmars and for Jaxon. (There are some promising treatments for CF on the horizon.) But the reality is that children are not commodities that we can ensure will turn out perfect.
This is the major flaw in prenatal eugenics: the assumption that genetic disease will disappear if we can just make sure no one with genetic disease is born. But no matter how good or pervasive genetic testing gets, there will always be children born with genetic disease. We need to remained focused on curing the disease instead of trying to eliminate the people with the disease.
Wednesday, January 18. 2012
Because human life starts well before birth, it is no surprise that human learning starts well before birth. Science is showing us that the 9 months spent inside our mother's womb is a time we take cues from our mother and her environment. Some of these cues will stay with us for our entire lives. In this fascinating TED video, Annie Murphy Paul explains:
2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' "right to become a father and a mother only through each other."
Monday, January 9. 2012
Infertility is heartbreaking and it seems that nearly everyone, myself included, has a family member or close friend or colleague that has tried IVF to have a child. Many people are reluctant to even discuss IVF simply because they do not want to be considered insensitive or judgmental.
But it is important to not turn away from the dark side of IVF. IVF is terribly wasteful of human life. According to figures release last year in the United Kingdom, 130,822 live IVF babies have been born in the period between 1991 and 2009. But over 3 million embryos have been created in about the same time. That means for every IVF success, nearly 24 lives are frozen, discarded, or sacrificed in research.
There is another way to treat infertility. One that actually finds the cause of unknown infertility and treats it instead of just wastefully creating disposable human lives. Not enough can be said about NaPro Technology that is successful even for couples for whom IVF has failed. And even though awareness of NaPro Technology is growing, it is still relatively unknown compared to the rest of the fertility industry. We all need to do our part to inform our friends, neighbors and loved ones about this ethical treatment for infertility.
In September, The Irish Times did a great article on a NaPro Technology provider, Dr. Phil Boyle:
Many couples turn to assisted reproductive technology (ART), such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), for help, but Galway GP and fertility specialist Dr Phil Boyle believes that these interventions do not do enough to address the underlying causes of infertility.The article also has a great success story from a couple that failed with IVF because the cause of their infertility, her cycle, was not diagnosed:
Louise McMullan and her husband, Eamonn, a GP in Omagh, have three daughters – Alice (11), Lucy (eight) and Rose (five) – all born through NaPro technology.In addition, here is a video from an Australian practitioner of NaPro Technology where he compares IVF to their approach. It is very informative. His discussion of IVF begins about minute 12 and the discussion of NaPro Technology treatment begins about minute 25.
Friday, November 18. 2011
Humans are a species set apart. We have a strong innate desire to know (and be raised by) our genetic parents. And this desire does not cease when we can take care of ourselves. It extends well into adulthood. No where is this more apparent than in the adult children of anonymous sperm donors who are desperate to discover who they are and where they came from. The fertility industry has no desire to help them because the industry's focus is on what the parents want(ed) and not on the emotional or physical well-being of the resulting children.
Anonymous Father's Day is a film about adults of anonymous sperm donors and their perspective which is the one we most need to hear. Here is the official trailer:
My favorite quote is from the gentleman who said, "It is quite possible to be grateful for your life and question aspects of your conception." So very true. It is beyond time to question the use of third party gametes in creating children. Children who may be desperate to know their genetic parents and may never get the answers they deserve.
The heartbreak in the voices of these adults reminds me of the often maligned but so wise Church teaching that a child has a right to be conceived by and born to his or her parents. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Monday, November 7. 2011
A few years ago I went shopping for a brand new house. Every model home I visited, regardless of the builder, had a gigantic master suite with a spa-like enormous bathroom where every morning you could cartwheel your way to the shower and back flip to the toilet. Down the hall, placed almost like an afterthought, were 3 or 4 tiny little bedrooms whose total square feet might add up to the space provided in the palatial master suite.
After the 5th house or so, I realized this was an indicator that society's values had shifted. Builders were building what the buyer wanted, which was clearly parental desire and comfort at the child's expense. I also knew it wasn't a good sign.
These days it is all about what parents want, not about what is best for the children. There is nowhere where this attitude is more apparent than in the assisted reproduction industry which is plowing ahead giving parents who can pay anything they desire, treating children like purchased commodities in the process. Want a smart, tall, blue-eyed athletic child? We have donor eggs and sperm for that. Want a boy not a girl? We can do that. Want a genetic match to an older sibling? Sure. Want a "disease-free" child? No problem. Want a child when you are 57? We can give you that.
Children are meant to be gifts not purchases but that is often how they are treated in the fertility game. Purchases to satisfy the current desires of the parents. I never bought a new house with a palatial master suite, but I can imagine that I would have lamented my choice once my children had grown and could no longer fit into the closets dressed as bedrooms. Now that the children produced by artificial means under extraordinary circumstances are no longer cute little bundles of joy, a kind of fertility "buyer's remorse" is starting to surface.
I posted recently about Lindsay at Confessions of a Cryokid who was conceived with donor sperm. She is opposed to the use of donor gametes because she is heartbroken and frustrated that she may never know who her father is. She writes:
I am a donor-conceived adult. Only about 10% of us even know the truth of our conception, the rest will forever be living a lie to themselves and their heirs.Recently Susan Tollefsen, known in Britain for being the oldest first-time mother there, has said that looking back, getting pregnant with IVF at 57 was not such a good idea:
A retired teacher who gave birth at 57 through IVF now admits that she was too old to have a child.Just like Josephine Quintavalle, from Comment on Reproductive Ethics, I believe that modern parents who want anything and everything when it comes to having children need to pay respect to the wisdom of nature:
One has to feel sorry for [Susan], because she took advantage of something society offered her. But I think it shows that we need to have a bit more respect for nature, which seems to know how hard it is to look after a child when you are older. There is a very good reason the menopause comes when it does. IVF and egg-donating are creating a lot of unnatural situations.Unfortunately it is the children like Lindsay and Freya that end up suffering in these "unnatural situations" which is what the Catholic Church has been saying all along.
Tuesday, November 1. 2011
It has become more common place that infertile couples are using IVF to create embryos and then hiring surrogate mothers to carry those embryos. The Catholic Church not only finds IVF unethical, but it also teaches that surrogate motherhood is immoral. The Church defines a surrogate as a woman who has consented to become pregnant by implantation with an embryo created with IVF or by insemination with sperm from a man that is not her husband "with a pledge to surrender the baby once it is born to the party who commissioned or made the agreement for the pregnancy."
Surrogacy is immoral because it denies the child the right to be conceived by an act of love between its genetic father and mother and gestated by its genetic mother. The child is treated like a commodity that the surrogate is paid to gestate and deliver. The surrogate mother is also treated as a biological commodity, as a place to gestate a child for money.
A recent heartbreaking case of surrogacy has left the surrogate over $200,000 in debt for medical bills. She nearly died after complications after her c-section. It seems the parents who hired her do not care since they got what they paid for, twins. From ABC News:
Carrie Mathews of Windsor, Colo., said she became a surrogate because she just wanted to provide a couple with children.In surrogacy, both domestic and international, women are treated like cattle. The lawyer mentioned in the article from the National Adoption and Surrogacy Center, Hilary Neiman, has plead guilty to taking part in a baby-selling ring with surrogacy advocate and lawyer, Theresa Erickson. These women would lure altruistic surrogates to the Ukraine where they would be implanted with "donor" IVF embryos and brought back to the States where Neiman and Erickson would "sell" the babies at exorbitant prices to infertile couples. The surrogates were simply pawns in a money and baby-making enterprise.
And this is the legacy of artificially assisted reproduction. A world where not only the children are treated like commodities, but the women who give them life are as well.
Friday, October 28. 2011
The Catholic Church's teachings on assisted reproduction techniques like artificial insemination and IVF are wildly unpopular, even among some Catholics. These important teachings are often misunderstood and painted as unfeeling, judgmental attacks on couples who are infertile. This could not be farther from the truth. The Church has always had the best interest of the child in mind, not what the parents want or feel they need. The Church acknowledges the very simple fact that we all deserve to be conceived out of an act love, gestated and nurtured by our biological mother, and born to our genetic mother and father. That is the way God intended it. (And if for some reason you don't believe in God, that is no doubt the way nature intended it.)
Now that a generation of adults conceived by third parties are speaking out, we are learning that they are desperate to know and understand where they came from. Desperate to know the men and women whose gametes have made their lives possible and they are thwarted at every turn by a billion dollar fertility industry that wants to protect its interests.
Lindsay of Confession of a Cryokid posted this photo and I believe you would be hard pressed to find a more eloquent statement of the heartbreak and frustration of children conceived with donor gametes. (Text follows)
I am a donor-conceived adult. Only about 10% of us even know the truth of our conception, the rest will forever be living a lie to themselves and their heirs.
Wednesday, September 7. 2011
It has become more common place that infertile couples are using IVF to create embryos and then hiring surrogate mothers to carry those embryos. Most surrogacy agreements require payment to the surrogate mother which can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 USD. Western couples are looking for cheaper options. Many are now turning to women from third world countries to carry their IVF embryos. A new book by Scott Carney called the The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers takes a critical look at international surrogacy especially in India. After Oprah did a whole show on a Western couple's use of an Indian surrogate through Dr. Nayna Patel's surrogacy service at the Akanksha Fertility Clinic in Anand, India, the waiting list for Dr. Patel's services is now in the hundreds. The Oprah show painted the surrogacy arrangement as a win-win for both the Indian woman and the Western couple. The couple gets a baby and the Indian surrogate gets more money that she could earn in a lifetime.
International surrogacy may look all sparklely and clean on the outside but Carney looks closer at Patel's clinic. He reports that surrogates there are kept under lock and key for the entire pregnancy. They are often forced to deliver by C-section even though C-sections carry a double to quadruple risk of death during childbirth. Indian surrogates are paid much less than their Western counterparts. While an American surrogate would get 50-75% of the total fees, and Indian surrogate receives only 25%.
Several of the surrogates I met in Anand were pregnant with twins. In cases where three or more embryos take, the Askanska clinic selectively aborts specific embryos to bring the total down to a more manageable levels. They do this often without asking permission of the intended parents or the surrogates.Carney's coverage of international surrogacy illustrates how children and their production has become more of a commercial enterprise than a gift from God. Using international surrogates is not just about getting a baby on the cheap, it is also about quality control. Quality control of the woman and her uterus. Carney recounts the words of Ester Cohen, an American woman who decided to use an Indian surrogate instead of an American one because an Indian woman is easier to control. Cohen said:
When I was told by my doctor they could get someone in Stockton, I don't know what they are eating, what they are doing. Their physical environment would have been a concern for me. The way they have things set up [in India] is that the surrogate's sole purpose is to carry a healthy baby for someone.Maybe that is a surrogate's "sole purpose" in Ms. Cohen's estimation, but I am certain these women's live have much more purpose than just to be rented by a wealthy Westerner. There is no doubt that these woman are being exploited and their beings reduced to a womb for hire. Even though they are being paid, they are profoundly affected emotionally having to give up a child they carried and nurtured in their bodies. Cohen recounts the experience when she got her daughter Daniella from the surrogate Saroj:
There was an intensity in her eyes. It was hard for her, and you could see how much she cared for Daniella.One surrogate on Oprah's show expressed her pain as quoted by Biopolitical Times:
Another says that she will find it difficult to give up the baby she is carrying. “It is up to the child to remember us,” she says. “We will remember the child for the rest of our lives.”The Catholic Church rejects all surrogacy because it reduces procreation to a contractual business. Surrogacy is immoral because it denies the child the right to be conceived by an act of love between its genetic father and mother and gestated by its genetic mother. The child is treated like a commodity that the surrogate is paid to gestate and deliver. The surrogate mother is also treated as a biological commodity, as a place to gestate a child for money. It is naturally exploitive to both the child and the surrogate no matter how much money changes hands. I would say the more money, the more exploitive surrogacy gets.
Carney quotes Usha Smerdon who runs Ethica, an adoption reform group:
Surrogacy is a form of labor. But its an exploitative one, similar to child labor and sweat shops driven by Western consumerism.... I challenge the notion...that hospitals are operating above board when driven by a profit motive.
Monday, July 25. 2011
Our society loves a good IVF story. One with a teary-eyed couple bouncing a much-loved cherub-checked baby on their lap. You can just hear the collective "ahhhhh." The ugly truth about IVF is the large scale manufacturing and discarding of human life that went into that one success. A recent report from the UK states that for every 1 IVF success, more than 30 embryos are created. From the UK Daily Mail:
More than 30 human embryos are created for every successful birth by IVF,official figures have revealed.
I have long said that IVF was human manufacturing and it seems Lord Alton agrees. I am all for the teary-eyed couple getting the cherub-cheeked baby that they so desperately want, but 30 other lives should not have to be created and discarded or destroyed in the process.
There is an effective alternative to IVF that actually treats infertility instead of just manufacturing embryos. NaPro Technology (Natural Procreative Technology) is the ethical way to treat infertility. Developed by Thomas W. Hilgers, MD, NaPro Technology focuses on a woman's reproductive health and "provides medical and surgical treatments that cooperate completely with the reproductive system." Thirty years of studying hormonal changes in a woman's cycle and the underlying causes of infertility has culminated in an alternative way to treat infertility that does not replace sexual intercourse or create life outside the body. NaPro Technology has great results as well. NaProTechnology has been shown to be 3 times more effective than IVF. Couples that failed with IVF succeeded with NaPro Technology. It is cheaper than IVF, does not require egg retrieval or donation, and since it treats the underlying cause of infertility, it allows for couples to get pregnant again and again. NaPro Technology has also been proven effective in preventing miscarriage and premature births. To find a NaPro Technology provider near you visit The Fertility Care Centers of America
Tuesday, July 12. 2011
Until recently, Germany has rejected PGD. They, unlike the United States, remember their history of eugenics. The Germans fear that PGD can be used to select for other traits like blue eyes and blond hair. And while PGD cannot be used to "design" babies, it can be used to build a more genetically "perfect" generation. PGD smacks of creating a "master race," and because of their history, the Germans see it. Unfortunately, Germany has recently allowed PGD, but only in cases where parents carry genetic disease. From Reuters:
Many scientists, news outlets and others talk about PGD like it eliminates disease. But PGD does not cure anything. It simply gets rid of the individuals with the disease. Imagine applying the PGD way of "treating" disease to cystic fibrosis (CF), a common genetic disease among Caucasians. The PGD way of "treating" CF would dispose of all of the people with CF and then declare that the disease was eliminated. PGD is not medicine, it is throwing the baby out with the dirty genetic bathwater.
At least some in Germany understand the road that allowing PGD places them on. From LifeSiteNews:
Monday, June 20. 2011
It is ironic that the fertility industry is all about creating coveted children and yet the health and well-being, both emotional and physical, of those children are more often than not overlooked. After decades of creating children outside the conjugal act of love between a husband and wife, there is now a generation of donor-conceived adults and children who are desperate to know about their biological parents. Anonymous Father's Day, by the Center for Bioethics and Culture, is a film that tells their story. They are asking for funds to help finish the project. Help them raise money on Kickstarter. Here is the teaser trailer:
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