IVF: The Heavy Cost of the Nobel Prize

For the 4 million children conceived through in-vitro-fertilization, the 2010 Nobel Prize for Medicine awarded to Dr. Robert Edwards on October 4th,
is understandably, good news. Congratulatory statements are also
pouring in from advocacy groups, fellow physicians, prominent parenting

For the 4 million children conceived through in-vitro-fertilization, the 2010 Nobel Prize for Medicine awarded to Dr. Robert Edwards on October 4th,
is understandably, good news. Congratulatory statements are also
pouring in from advocacy groups, fellow physicians, prominent parenting

this news plays out in the unfolding story of Assisted Reproduction
and its role in shaping our healthcare, medical research, economy, the
air we breathe and the soil we count on for food, depends largely on how
the rest of us respond to the announcement of this prestigious prize.

Medical technology is a powerful tool that helps or harms depending on how we use it.

the last decade and a half of my work as a fertility educator, I've
celebrated the arrival of many IVF-conceived babies, with mothers and
fathers who followed this road to parenthood attentive to internal cues,
protective of their overall level of health. I have also seen women,
propelled by fears of childlessness, reach for the big guns of IVF as a
way of tuning out the body's call for attention. For them, a
potentially useful tool became a self-punishing weapon.

the wave of jubilation has washed away from public view is the $5
billion-and-rising cutthroat industry. An industry competing for
customers with discounts, advertising and a lure of the latest breakthrough technique.

the sound of cheering is drowning out the voices of the many millions
of women for whom IVF became a revolving door of endless egg retrievals
and embryo transfers; women, who entered the promised land of Assisted
Reproduction, blasted their ovaries with progressively more aggressive
protocols, only to return years later, childless, broken and broke.

and pregnancy are emotionally charged experiences. Guiding wannabe
moms on the baby-making-road I have found that reproductive challenges
are often linked with unresolved inner conflicts, memory of sexual
abuse, birth trauma or other issues imprinted in our tissues. I have
witnessed the resolution of such conflicts lead to natural conception,
even for women with a history of failed high-tech treatments.

Anne Harrington, the chair of the History of Science Department at Harvard University, and author of The Cure Within
speaks of this link between story and symptom: "...there is more to
physical illness than can be seen just in the body; and more to healing
than can be found in just pills and shots. Mind matters too: how one
thinks, how one feels...And this being so, it follows that there may be
other ways than those of physicalist medicine by which to heal the body
of the real disorders that ail it."

the missing piece of the puzzle is undiagnosed Celiac disease or a
latent nutritional deficiency that allows individuals to function but
impedes the more challenging task of implantation, gestation and birth. A
thoughtful change in diet and lifestyle can often restore balance
creating a more life-friendly inner environment. The attempt to side
step such symptoms by revving up our ovaries with synthetic stimulants
might not only further disrupt endocrine function, it robs aspiring
parents of the opportunity for healing that comes with every health

A 2002 report in The New England Journal of Medicine
examined the incidence of health problems in babies conceived through
in-vitro as well as children conceived through introcytoplasmic sperm
injection, in which the egg is fertilized by injecting it directly with
the sperm. Reviewing data from registries of birth defects, the
investigators found that 9 percent of babies conceived through
treatments had chromosomal abnormalities, heart, kidney, and urogenital
defects--compared to 4.2 percent of babies conceived without treatments.
investigators, as always, called for further research, stating it was
unclear whether the abnormalities were caused by IVF or by the
"infertile couples' medical problems."

me, the study raised a different set of questions: If your car begins
to break down, chances are you will take it in for repair, rather than
force it into higher performance. Doesn't the body deserve similar
attention? Wouldn't make more sense to address the underlying medical
problems that might've triggered a couple's inability to conceive,
rather than force the body into doing what it may not be ready for?
a full term pregnancy is still one of the challenges where certainty
eludes even the best and the brightest. 32 years after Dr. Edwards'
historic birth announcement and millions of dollars spent on research,
the chance of a healthy baby after treatment, remains low: 28.2% for
women under 35, falling to 10.6% for women 40- 42.

Something about conceiving a child makes it startlingly clear that we are more than a collection of well-designed organs.

the announcement ceremony, Professor Christer Hoog, the member of the
Nobel assembly declared IVF a "safe and effective therapy," regulated by
"strict ethical guidelines." He must've missed the 2009 study--one
of many worrisome findings--published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showing
a link between ovulation-inducing drugs and increased risk of breast
cancer by 42%, 4-6 times higher risk of uterine cancer and 2-6 times
greater risk of malignant melanoma.

As for strict ethical guidelines? Perhaps Professor Hoog could arrange for a private viewing of recently released Made in India, a sobering documentary about the exploitation of impoverished Indian women as surrogate mothers. Eggsploitation,
a disturbing film featuring young egg-donors-- who suffered brain
damage, strokes, or nearly died of complications resulting from the
procedure done to retrieve the eggs -might be another useful source of

Technopoly --
a term coined by the late cultural critic, Neil Postman -- is a system
wherein technology is always viewed as positive and of value, with
little consideration of its consequences. "It is the kind of friend,"
writes Postman, "that asks for trust and obedience because its gifts are
truly bountiful. But, of course, there is a dark side to this friend.
Its gifts are not without a heavy cost."

has become tragically true in the unregulated field of assisted
reproduction. Unless more patients and doctors begin to speak up about
the dark side of this friend, the earth-community has yet to see the
immense environmental impact and healthcare costs of the rising number
of state-of-the-art clinics worldwide. A dubious legacy for the
not-yet-born generations of children we so fervently long to bring into
the world.

what's most troubling, is that a stamp of approval from such a
prestigious-- albeit in this case-- poorly informed committee, will do
more to serve the pecuniary interests of an exploitive industry, than
the interests of couples Dr. Edwards once set out to help.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.