The Risks of In-Vitro Fertilization

18 02 2009

Recent studies on the risks of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) suggest that IVF may lead to changes in gene expression and higher risk of the children developing certain disorders.  Data also suggests that there may be an increased risk of premature birth and low birth rate among babies conceived using IVF.  Although the results of these studies are by no means comprehensive, the data seems significant enough to instill concern in those who seek parenthood through in-vitro means.  

IVF has seemed to be very safe over the past 30 years, and the use of IVF has revolutionized cultural definitions of family.  Women who choose to conceive using donors often challenge the way that biological relation is viewed in relationship to parenthood.  IVF is used most often by higher-class well-off single women, gay and lesbian couples, and heterosexual couples with fertility problems.  Because of its high cost, IVF is mainly a path to parenthood used by wealthier individuals.

There is no question in my mind that IVF has been one of the most important scientific and social developments for both women and men.  But the excitement of the benefits of the method can overshadow the need for extensive study of the possible negative effects and risks of the method.  For one thing, embryos tend to grow much slower in the laboratory than in the human womb.  The culture medium used to grow the embryos in the lab affects the rate of growth.  With further study of the possible risks of this broth’s composition, researchers may be able to discover how to change the composition to make the process safer and erase the possibility that broth composition could affect genetic makeup.

The data of the studies are probably skewed.  There have been large selection effects on data of the participants in some studies, because people who respond to questionnaires used were probably more likely to be those parents who had experienced problems with their children’s health.  The increase in abnormalities found in the study, even so, were not found to be much higher in IVF children than in comparison with the general population.

Whether or not the data in the studies are actually indicators of a problem with IVF, the research is significant because it is crucial to examine our medical procedures.  Richard G. Rawlins, who is director of in vitro fertilization and assisted reproduction laboratories at the Rush Centers for Advanced Reproductive Care in Chicago, was interviewed for the New York Times article about this study.  He explained that patients at interview never asked questions about the possible risks of growing embryos in laboratories.  He added that not many doctors have asked about risks either.  We need to make sure that women are educated about the potential risks of their reproductive decisions, so that they are fully informed when they make the emotional decision to conceive a child using this method.



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