Monday, March 13, 2023

IVF issues

Worth and cost are two very different things, but once you put a price on something, it’s hard not to feel that you should get what you paid for, even if what was ordered is a baby. The complicated story of Paris Hilton’s desire not just to be a mother in general, but to be the mother of a little girl is case in point. With two daughters of my own, I appreciate the sentiment, but at the heart of this story isn’t only one desired girl, but 20 lost boys.

Today, about two percent of children born each year are conceived in a lab through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), a "complex series of procedures" in which a woman’s eggs and a man’s sperm are brought together. Yet, Hilton and husband Carter Reum found that seven times was not a charm.

Hilton wanted a girl and the results were 20 boys, snowflake babies now in limbo. IVF has helped some very wonderful people have a family, but there is something profoundly sad about 20 little people found not good enough based on their sex and a business model that commodifies humanity.  

While the heiress plans to keep going, a specific baby order is not for the underfunded. Forbes reports that a single cycle of IVF can cost up to $30K just to get started, and in Hilton’s case, the costs will go even higher as she intends to use a surrogate. "Base pay" for carrying another’s child is $55K and up.

But there are other costs – human costs – as for those unchosen, and parents have three options: destroy them, donate them to science for research, or donate them to someone else.

Creating disposable people on purpose is central to the IVF business model, troubling to many people who remember high school biology where we learned that a new life begins when egg and sperm unite. That didn’t used to be a trick question on a test or a religious point of view.

Preborn people are exactly like us – only smaller and without social media accounts.

Because of the cost, creating far too many preborn than can safely be implanted leads to the kinds of arbitrary life and death decisions usually seen in war movies – a Sophie’s Choice. Some of those children are flushed away after "failing" genetic testing or sex screening, things that lead to accommodation or treatment among the born.

Also troubling is a business model where people are owned by others, and wombs of the young and poor are rented out.

Sophia Vergaro and her former fiancé, Nick Loeb, went twenty-rounds in court before the knockout punch to two children, whose rights to life didn’t count in court because of papers drawn up on their ownership. "In California, which is where the embryos were frozen, they are referred to as products," notes the Daily Mail.

Writing in the New York Times in 2015, Loeb asked, "When we create embryos for the purpose of life, should we not define them as life, rather than as property?"

That contractual power over human property in the world of IVF is absolute, leading even to "Couples are turning extra IVF embryos into jewelry" through companies like Baby Bee Hummingbirds.

If that’s not disturbing enough, the health risks to those involved get little attention.

A Heritage Foundation report found "children born from IVF have higher rates of autism, cancer, and minor birth issues like cleft palate." In fact, about six percent of babies born through IVF have "birth anomalies" compared to four percent of all other babies, and a baby’s risk of dying near birth is "slightly higher’ along with premature birth, which can have severe implications.

The women undergoing the treatments can have an increased risk of heart and pregnancy complications. Overstimulating ovaries to produce many eggs and not just one or two in a cycle "can result in blood clots, kidney failure and death."

Under contract, those problems are endured sometimes by poor young women who provide eggs or take jobs as surrogates in financial arrangements that commodifies their fertility. A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have, making it an ugly kind of human trafficking as for-profit enterprises advertise for egg "donation." NBC reports that the "fertility industry" is set to pull in $41 billion by 2026.  

What will Hilton’s future little girl feel about her birth story? Will she feel a need to perform up to the expectations that lead to her acquisition? Will she be troubled knowing that her twenty brothers are among one million others in cold storage? Will those boys be born?

When she welcomed her son via surrogate, Hilton told People magazine, "It's always been my dream to be a mother." 

It’s a dream many share, but the science and the contract disputes have far outpaced conversations on the ethics. A National Institutes of Health article noted the business model is riddled with moral dilemmas, and "problems may exist, in part, due to the lack of regulation in the U.S."

Harder choices about how to respect all the women and preborn impacted by this business seem long overdue. Tiny lives hang in the balance … and I don’t mean the balance sheet.

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