Moving Hiatus! Meanwhile, Back to… If You Are Pro-Life, Then You Are Anti-IVF

Posted on August 29, 2014


ginger-houseAll, one more look back at a Lila-Encore!  Lila and Hubby are still unpacking and unboxing, and the new house is finally starting to look more like a house and less like a hurricane-mauled refugee camp.  Lila’s computer is up and running so I will soon be back to blogging!

Meanwhile, here’s a look back at one of my most controversial articles which garnered a lot of contentious comments.


If You Are Pro-Life, You Are Anti-IVF

In the pre-election flurry of outrageous Republican statements about rape pregnancies, religious opposition to contraception in health-care plans, and the ongoing “War on Women” marked by legislation impacting women’s reproductive rights and choices, the focus has consistently been on preventing abortions and to some extent, hindering access to contraception. There have also been epic battles over using human embryos in stem-cell research. One can argue the pros and cons of these positions, but they are consistent with a pro-life stance.

So here’s Lila’s question: where is the religious conservative outrage over in-vitro fertilization (IVF)?

For some reason, the widespread destruction of human embryos and fetuses in the pursuit of a living child is largely ignored whenever pro-life issues come to the fore. The fact that an infertile couple going through multiple rounds of failed IVF treatments – or even “selective reduction” of a multiple pregnancy – could be responsible for the creation and destruction of literally dozens of embryos is scarcely even noticed and certainly not mentioned, despite the fact that it goes on routinely in this country (when I say “destruction,” I mean discarded embryos, not those that simply perished in the womb.. although perished embryos are also significant). Yet a pregnant rape victim who wants to abort one fetus is demonized, and a medical research scientist is a monster for destroying embryos to obtain stem cells.

Why?  Is it a matter of motive?  Do ends justify the means here?  More bluntly:  is it okay to turn a blind eye to the destruction of millions of embryos in pursuit of parenthood, but not even a few in pursuit of medical advances, health of the mother, or just the choice to not be a parent?

Sensational as the Octomom case is, the numbers revealed in her fertility doctor’s medical board complaint are instructive as an example of how many embryos may be created and destroyed in order to yield a living child. Over the course of 10 embryo-transfer procedures, a total of 82 embryos were created; 53 were transferred and 29 are still frozen as of this writing, eventually to be discarded. Of the 53 that were transferred, only 14 living children resulted, so 39 perished. That is a cost of 68 perished or abandoned embryos in order to obtain 14 kids. The medical board complaint also indirectly touches on the fact that many patients and clinics routinely destroy “leftover” frozen embryos.

Are we horrified by these numbers? As it turns out, Octomom actually had a much better-than-average success rate, in terms of the number of embryos wasted vs. living children born.

Check out the national statistics from SART, the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology: of more than 140,000 IVF cycles per year for the last few years, only 41% of IVF cycles in even the youngest patients achieve a live birth, with that success rate declining sharply with patient age. SART does not address the total number of embryos created for these cycles, however; only the numbers transferred.

Hard numbers on total embryos destroyed are difficult to obtain, but in the UK, as the Telegraph reports, “Data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority show that of 2,137,924 embryos created in British clinics between 1991 and 2005, about 1.2 million were never used. Just four per cent resulted in live births.” US numbers appear to be similar, as BioEdge noted in 2009: “A recent study in the US journal Fertility and Sterility by researchers at Yale University School of Medicine offers an answer. It appears that of every 100 eggs fertilised in an IVF laboratory, only 5 will become live births. In other words, 95% of all IVF embryos are discarded, perish in the Petri dish or die in the womb.” With some 58,000 IVF births per year – 4 million and counting, as the Atlantic notes – this is a lot of discarded or perished embryos: something on the order of 1.1 million per year.  If the American numbers are similar to the British numbers, that means that of the total, over 660,000 are intentionally destroyed by being discarded.*

Yet there is nary a peep from the conservative pro-life right. Why?

If you are staunchly pro-life, or if you have concerns about using embryos for, say, stem-cell research, you cannot in good conscience condone IVF. Perhaps it is easier to demonize rape victims who want to get rid of a fetus, or to paint stem-cell research as an unnatural abomination, than to criticize infertile women desperate for a child; but IVF treatments are – in terms of raw numbers of destroyed embryos per year – far more destructive.

*Check the math:

1)    1.2 million discarded/2.1 million fertilized = 0.57 discard rate (57%, see line 3 below)

2)    5% born per 100 embryos fertilized; 58,000 births per year.  58,000 = 5% of 1.16 million embryos fertilized per year.

3)    57% of 1.16 million = 661,200 fertilized embryos intentionally discarded per year.