Nadya Suleman and her doctor, Michael Kamrava, have become the poster children for the anti-reproductive choice crowd who are intent upon restricting access to medical technologies such as IVF which are essential for many of the 1 in 6 couples suffering from infertility in the United States. Ever since the Octo-Mom Circus began playing on a television near you, self-described bioethicists and compassionate conservatives have been quick to call for the regulation of the ART industry. Portraying the Octo-Debacle as the norm rather than the aberration, these ideologues have sought to roll back decades of hard-fought for victories in the advancement of reproductive choice. Today, an organization called The Center For Bioethics And Culture Network published a duplicitous opinion piece by their director, Jennifer Lahl:
This booming business is relatively new, having really taken off in 1978 with the in vitro fertilization (IVF) and birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first “test-tube” baby. Since then, reproductive medicine has been woefully unregulated and out-of-control. Can you say, “Octomom”? Nadya Suleman’s octuplets recently had their first birthday. Early last year, when news broke in the mainstream and celebrity-reality-media, the blame game and finger pointing was endless. The reproductive medical community pointed to Dr. Michael Kamrava, Suleman’s physician, as some rogue doctor-turned-cowboy in the “wild wild west” of California fertility medicine — he didn’t follow professional guidelines. And yet, Dr. James Grifo, a fertility specialist at NYU School of Medicine said, “I don’t think it’s our job to tell them how many babies they’re allowed to have. I am not a policeman for reproduction in the United States.” Dr. Grifo, you are right, you are not a policeman. You are a medical doctor and a member of a profession which has fiduciary duties and obligations to your patients — that means both mothers and children.
How are these positions inconsistent? First of all, the California Medical Board charged Kamrava with gross negligence and violation of professional guidelines which may very well result in the loss of his medical license. So the profession being attacked by Ms. Lahl has discharged their fiduciary obligations by disciplining their own. Secondly, Lahl distorts Dr. Grifo’s statement to advance her own disingenuous point. Clearly Dr. Grifo was speaking to a doctor making the arbitrary determination as to how many children a parent should have. Anyone want to take a bet that Ms. Lahl and her organization would be in a tizzy if President Obama sought to pass a law similar to China’s One Child policy which restricted the number of children an American family could have? Lets be clear here: Ms. Lahl is only concerned about the number of children a family can have through IVF and would bitterly oppose any federal restriction on how many children fertile Americans can have through traditional family building options.
Ms Lahl continues:
Of course, the fertility industry, and those who profit from this $6.5 billion a year business, would like nothing better than to keep it unregulated and unlegislated. And sadly, legislators shy away from passing laws that would bring some sanity and safety back to fertility medicine; they’re either operating for or being intimidated by reproductive “choice” and “rights” rhetoric. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) — led largely by fertility doctors — is already pushing against the existing regulatory legislation over egg donation in several states. Much has been lost in the modern medical profession, which consistently avoids roping in this industry and their colleagues who practice in and profit from the baby-making business. The resistance is powerful and predictable.
Really? Of course Ms. Lahl has nothing to substantiate this charge. If Ms. Lahl was being honest she would have to concede that every major organization, including ASRM, condemned Kamrava and the treatment he provided to Suleman. Other groups, such as the American Bar Association, are working on model Guidelines to assist states in navigating issues related to assisted reproduction. The FDA has passed significant restrictions on ART and the ASRM also has laid out its own guidelines. What Ms. Lahl is not telling her readers is that the only legislation being opposed by these physicians and groups are the ones that would effectively bring about the end of IVF as we know it or eliminate any compensation to men and women offering to be donors. Ms. Lahl would like nothing better than to make surrogacy and egg donation an altruistic-only endeavor which would effectively close the door to the majority of patients suffering from infertility and who need the assistance of a third party to begin their families. One need only look at most other countries around the world who prohibit compensated egg donation and whose citizens find themselves on waits lists as long as ten years before they can proceed with a donor. In fact, in some countries, by the time they reach the top of the wait list, age restrictions prohibit them from proceeding.
Chills still run up my back when I recall testifying to the Georgia State Senate in 2009. I walked into the packed, standing-room-only hearing, a whole bay of television cameras and reporters standing by. But what really caught me off guard were the throngs of women who held pictures of their IVF babies, accusing me of trying to steal their reproductive rights. Similar outpourings of hysterical resistance were just witnessed in Arizona, regarding legislation that would ban compensating women (apart from their out-of-pocket expenses) for their eggs.
The chills Ms. Lahl experienced was nothing in comparison to those felt by the people who would have been effected had the draconian legislation being proposed in Georgia been passed. Call me cynical, but I really doubt Ms. Lahl was genuinely surprised at the reaction from the very people who would be childless if she had her way. What Ms. Lahl did not inform her readers was the testimony she gave in Georgia was to support a bill that would have classified an embryo as a “child” and thus be entitled to personhood status. It also sought to legally mandate how many embryos a doctor can implant. The uncertainty of that law left in doubt what patients could even do with their own frozen embryos. As for prohibiting compensation to egg donors, Ms. Lahl knows very well that had Arizona passed that law, the supply of egg donors would entirely disappear (other than family members and friends). In the “ideal” world that Ms. Lahl aspires to live in, all states would prohibit donor compensation thus effectively ending egg donation as a viable option to family building.
The first IVF children are only now entering adulthood — most are still under 20. And sadly, no long-term studies have been conducted. This is just irresponsible in light of the many risks and aspects we don’t yet understand.Researchers have found a five percent to10 percent chromosomal difference between IVF children and naturally conceived children.IVF children are at increased risk of birth defects such as neural tube defects and low birth weight (later predisposing them to obesity, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes). A new study just out in Europe (where IVF is heavily regulated and monitored) looked at 20,000 singleton pregnancies and saw a four-fold increased risk of stillbirths in children created using IVF or Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) technology when compared to children conceived naturally or through non-IVF fertility treatment.
And what about the high failure rate of IVF? Recent U.S. data reports that of 140,795 cycles, only 56,790 resulted in births — 40 percent success. Given the promises of the baby business, it’s clear that infertile couples are willing to ignore the financial and health risks — to themselves, to their future children, and to third parties (e.g., egg/sperm donors, gestational surrogates). Is 40-percent-happily-ever-after worth the risks, the disregard, and the debt?
I’m really confused now. On the one hand, Ms. Lahl is claiming no long-term studies have been conducted, then goes on and cites a number of long-term studies! Moroever, Ms. Lahl is trying to sell a pig in a poke as no one has ever claimed that IVF is risk free. Clearly Ms. Lahl has never seen the consent forms an infertility patient has to sign before proceeding with treatment. Had she bothered to take the time to review the typical consent forms, she would know that all of these risk are disclosed and discussed in great detail. Moreover, would Ms. Lahl deprive a cancer patient of treatment because it is new or there was no long-term studies addressing its efficacy? Or would Ms. Lahl be comfortable with the federal government preventing Americans from knowingly and volitionally assuming the risk of any medical treatment that does not have a 100% guarantee of success and without any possible complications? Simply stated, Ms. Lahl’s position is not grounded in any consistent or intellectually honest belief. To the contrary, it is result driven and designed solely to bring an end to reproductive choice using any specious argument available. Parenthetically, Ms. Lahl seems a bit math challenged as the “first IVF children” are now in their early 30s and well into adulthood.
Ms. Lahl concludes:
Given the reality that the fertility industry and fertility specialists seem uninterested in changing their practices, if they are successful in blocking good, sound, sensible legislation, soon enough the facts will catch up with them, and they will have to answer to the public. We have the obligation to speak and legislate to protect those who have no defense and no recourse.
Oh no, a boogeyman is out to get us! Ms. Lahl reaches deep into her bag of hyperbole with this passage. No one denies her right to speak as that is constitutionally protected. What is objectionable is her intent to limit others constitutional rights to procreative choice. Further, who are these defenseless people without recourse that she claims to be protecting? A child of IVF? Parents of twins born as a result of egg donation? This is nothing more than a shameless and baseless emotional appeal to justify the imposition of her organization’s pro-life, anti-choice ideology on the country. Children from IVF have been around since 1978 and I have yet to hear of a single incident in which the doctor responsible for their conception or their parents who brought them into the world, were sued for wrongful life. Further, in order to make the specious claim about the industry being disinterested in change, Ms. Lahl has to ignore the disciplinary action against Kamrava, the guidelines imposed by the ASRM and its affiliated societies, the rules promulgated by the FDA and groups like the ABA and AFA who are constantly working towards improving this field.
I would have had more respect for Ms. Lahl if she was honest about her true motivations which is to outlaw IVF, surrogacy, egg and sperm donation because she finds it immoral and violative of God’s law. Instead, she cowardly cloaks herself as an avenger for justice to protect the naive, voiceless and defenseless patients of evil doctors like Michael Kamrava. The bottom line is Ms. Lahl and those of her ilk want to legislate morality — and impose their morality on everyone else.