Is IVF destructive?

The decision to attempt IVF is not an easy one to make. For most it is a financial gamble on a dream that will take years to recover from. But this is nothing compared to emotional struggle a couple will face when IVF is their last option for a biological child.  Moral, ethical and religious questions weigh heavily on the minds of any couple facing IVF.

There is a disturbing need by some to connect embryonic losses during IVF with the concept of destroying a life through an abortion. Regardless of your view on abortion, not all losses during the IVF process are cases of destroying life.

Even more insulting is the assumption couples attempting IVF are blasé about these losses; we only care about the take home baby. Nothing could be further from the truth. When my Wife and I heard 9 mature eggs were harvested, realistically I thought 5 would grow after being fertilized. Reading the statistics from other IVF couples, I knew 5 was a reasonable number, even if still optimistic. The fact is our Reproductive Endocrinologist, the Embryologist, the nurses, techs, my Wife and I were all HOPING every one of the 9 eggs fertilized would result in a viable embryo.

If a farmer plants 15 corn seeds, and only 6 grow into stalks of corn, we don’t say the farmer “destroyed” 9 plants do we? Why do some feel the need to label these losses as destroying or killing innocent life when everyone involved was doing everything they could avoid it? Clinics don’t transfer multiple embryos hoping all but one survives, it’s simply the odds the doctor’s are dealing with. Most clinics are responsible about the number of embryos transferred into the womb, a few aren’t. We can’t let the case of Octomom tarnish and warp how IVF is viewed to those not dealing with infertility.

To be honest, my biggest fear during the IVF process wasn’t ending up empty handed. My biggest fear was facing the need for selective reduction.  A situation our clinic tries very hard to avoid. Holding clinics responsible for relying too often on selective reduction is certainly a cause I could get behind. However, transferring two embryos into a womb that both split isn’t a situation any doctor could have predicted. Selective reduction would be needed for the life of the mother and to avoid risking the lives of all the children.

There is one aspect to IVF that is sadly destructive. The discarding of frozen embryos.  Our clinic provided us with the option of what to do with our remaining frozen embryos should we decide to stop having children. To discard or donate for embryonic adoption? There should be more literature provided discussing the benefits of choosing donation to help other infertile couples. An option all clinics should provide to their patients.

I’m not defending the IVF process against all the ethical questions against it. It disturbs me to think how this process could be abused to select designer babies with the right eye and hair color. Or when I hear about it being used for gender selection.

The limited destructive aspect of the IVF process can be reduced through education and holding clinics responsible to keep the number of selective reductions needed as low as possible. But we must fight against the idea that all embryonic losses are destroying life. The majority of losses are because they didn’t survive when everyone involved were hoping they would.

IVF is overcoming an obstacle preventing a couple from conceiving. That’s all. We don’t withhold glasses from those with poor eyesight because they see the way God intended. Nor do we condemn those with a genetic disorders and prevent them from treatments. We treat children suffering leukemia, cyanotic heart defects causing “Blue Babies”, those with cleft pallets, all natural conditions we have overcome using science.

Unlike embryonic stem cell research, none of the embryos created during the IVF process were done so with the intent of being destroyed. The IVF process is about creating life.

With only about a 20% success rate for a couple trying naturally to conceive, the success rate of IVF is much higher. But we have statistics we can point to regarding the losses during IVF. We just don’t know why a fertile couple only has a 20% chance of getting pregnant. While a large number of them are cases of the egg not actually fertilizing…we just don’t know how many did fertilize and didn’t implant like we do with IVF.

I understand the choice of attempting IVF is a difficult one. But don’t let anyone tell you it is against God’s will. If God were that against IVF, wouldn’t its success rate be zero?

About ivfmale

Just a guy dealing with infertility.

Posted on November 26, 2012, in Purgatory and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I love every word of this. Well stated!

    • Thanks. I was trolling the IVF feed on WordPress looking to support new blogs just starting the journey and saw two posts trying to compare abortion to IVF. I was disturbed how someone could trivialize the struggle of IVF to prove a point about abortion, then conclude we should just be happy adopting.

      I also got accused of something called “male choice” which I’m not even sure what that means. Oh well.

      • Yea, before we started I spent a lot of time reading entries under the IVF topic. I found a few like the ones you are describing. One was some sort of elected official, and she didn’t allow comments (go figure), and the other was a minister who ended up not allowing my comment to appear on his blog. I guess they don’t care what others think of their opinions.

  2. Your words are spot on. It is so frustrating to have to go through infertility at all. It adds insult to injury when we have to put up with the ignorant comments people make, both in person and online. Thanks for writing.

  3. Great post. Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system that affects quality of life and should be treated just like any other non-life-threatening, but life-changing, disease. And while adopting is a beautiful and wonderful thing, it’s difficult, expensive, unpredictable and not a simple substitute for having a biological child. (Fertiles have this vision of couples just going down to the orphanage and picking out a healthy baby. It is so not like that!)

    Through experience, I’ve found that most people previously judgmental and critical about fertility treatment change their tune once they are facing the prospect of not being able to have kids. Combining your genes with those of your loved one is a very strong biological urge!

    • I realized some people just can’t be reasoned with. I can’t help but laugh at their hypocrisy.

      They do raise issues that need discussing even if the conclusions are off base. I created a good post out of it so the exercise was worth it.

  4. Nicely written!

  5. I wish I could find a link to the article I was just reading suggesting that the embryonic arrest rate seen in labs is likely happening in fertile women at a lower rate. Meaning they think fertilization is fairly common but embryos are arresting pre-implantation. People who equate pre-implantation loss to abortion should be aware that it’s likely happening in fertile women all the time. Because it can’t be seen, they can pretend that the sperm just didn’t reach the egg. However, it seems that’s not always the case.

    • That was my beef with the two blogs I found Friday. To equate the destruction of frozen embryos to abortion I understand, but to inflate the loss numbers by including embryos that simply didn’t survive is misleading.

      What you’ve said makes perfect sense to me.

  6. Thank you for such a thoughtful and informative post. As an embryologist I can share that we hope all normally fertilised eggs will become babies, and that the decision not to transfer or freeze an embryo comes about because it has unfortunately stopped developing or is missing the Inner Cell Mass that is what becomes the baby in the case of Blastocysts.

    The idea from some that we gleefully play some sort of “Sophie’s Choice” is revolting especially as I know how much care is taken with embryos in our care and how much research is being done globally to try and improve prospective parent’s odds of finally achieving their family.

    • Thank you Simon for taking the time to read and comment on my post. It’s wonderful to hear the thoughts on the matter from a real embryologist. My personal “wow” meter shot to 11 when I saw your comment. 🙂

      My issue with the posts I read on Friday was with the misrepresentation of many of the embryo losses during the IVF procedure by trying to relate all the losses to abortion. Basically in a poor attempt to validate abortion. (Well one of them was anyway, still not sure about the gypsy post.) If you look at just the unused frozen embryos destroyed, those numbers would be much lower than the number of abortions.

      What I found most disturbing was I’m supposed to feel sympathetic towards the woman stuck with an unwanted pregnancy, but they had none for those of us wanting a biological child. That they felt right about insisting I should choose adoption, but nobody has the right to tell a pregnant woman to choose life.

      Anyway, from the IF community to all of those like yourself trying to help us with our dreams….

  7. Excellent post! I think that you hit the nail on the head, I couldn’t have said it myself. Thank you.

  8. Wow, what a great read! Thoughtful and spot on! Thanks for writing this!

  1. Pingback: Update on Our Embies :) | Our Journey Through IVF

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