The first “IVF baby”, Louise Brown, will be 40 next year. A quarter of a million children have now been born as a result of in vitro fertilisation in Britain. Every baby is precious, and the parents of these children have endured arduous treatment and sometimes great financial sacrifice in order to have a family.
The situation is more complex than it first appears, however. Only a quarter of IVF treatments result in a baby. The odds are better than when IVF was introduced (when it was 15 per cent), but it still means that the vast majority of people who embark on this treatment are being offered false hope that they will be able to have their longed-for child. The irony is that IVF does not diagnose or treat the causes of infertility; it attempts to bypass them. Instead of trying to enable natural processes to work, IVF steamrollers them. Ovulation is first suppressed, then hyperstimulated.
Infertility is a terrible cross for people to bear, and the desire to have a child is completely natural, and understandably sometimes overwhelming. But IVF – alongside many other “reproductive health” techniques – subtly changes the status of the baby from a gift into a commodity. (I was born via donor conception myself – in vivo rather than in vitro – and have struggled to come to terms with this, particularly a sense of loss of identity and being cut off from one of my parents.)
When NHS treatment is not available, would-be parents are persuaded to pay thousands of pounds for the chance of a baby. But the technique does not just produce one baby: the explicit aim of the process is to produce multiple embryos, and choose the “best” one to transfer to the womb.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was prophetic. IVF intentionally produces multiple tiny human beings, then selects the one which appears “the best” and gives him or her a chance of life. Not only that, but certain countries allow gender selection via IVF, and also genetic screening – not just for serious illness but also for disorders of which the potential parents may simply be carriers.
What happens to the embryos who do not get implanted? Their parents have three choices. They can be frozen for up to five years, then they have to be either destroyed, donated anonymously to another woman or given to medical research. So in order to have a child, intended parents have to give up their children. In order to heal the pain of infertility, a very high price is demanded.
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