Struggling with infertility is agonizing. Yet that primal desire for a child despite biological roadblocks has driven Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) to become a billion dollar industry. An industry which continues to research methods and procedures to improve their “product,” a baby. Yet as “innovation” in reproductive tech moves forward, driven by the desires of adults, the most important question goes unasked; “how does this technology affect the child in the long run?”
Research increasingly reveals the detrimental effects that In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and ART has on children. The Perth Hospital Telethon Kids Institute conducted a study which revealed that the children created via these technologies are at increased risk for intellectual disabilities.
“…researchers pooled data on more than 210,000 children born in Western Australia between 1994 and 2002, taking into account more than eight years of childhood development… They found children conceived through ART were in fact a touch more likely to develop a mild to severe cognitive impairment. On closer inspection, it also looked like some procedures posed a greater risk than others. Children conceived using ICSI had the greatest chance of impairment, for example, with 1 in 32 children diagnosed with some level of intellectual disability compared with 1 in 59 children conceived without any help from fertility treatments.”
This isn’t the first study to raise a red flag about how these “treatments” are actually impairing children’s cognitive development. The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology published a systematic review of 35 studies which concluded that “the available high-quality evidence indicates that specific treatments may give rise to different effects on cognitive development, with certain treatments, including ICSI, associated with cognitive impairment.” And while the cognitive development of the child is important, it’s only one piece of the larger picture. The Kids Institute study concedes that it is ignoring “risks for other health problems” that have yet to be studied. Those “other health problems” include premature birth/low birth weight, a greater risk of rare birth defects, a possible increased risk of childhood illnesses, high blood pressure.
In your average pregnancy, mothers go to great lengths to limit behaviors that might harm their baby — from avoiding sushi to switching from coffee to tea. No sacrifice is too small if its “bad for the baby.” Yet despite growing evidence that creating babies in labs has a detrimental effect on their long-term health, the fertility industry is booming. An industry which is driven, not by maximizing child health, but by producing “live births.” Once the child is born and the clinic is paid, the fertility doctors lose interest. It’s the children with physical and intellectual impairments who must live with the fall-out. And in the case of donor-conceived children, they must do it while suppressing their instinctive longing for their missing biological mother or father. This can adds another layer of social and emotional turmoil to the child. Intended parents may be unaware of these risks, or may simply decide that their longing for a baby is worth any sacrifice the child must make.
The industry’s motivation to force feed fertility, regardless of the risks posed to the baby, should concern us all. The entire heart of the industry needs to be redirected to keep the long term well-being of the child at the center of study and “innovation.” Whatever advances are made in the name of helping infertile couples, they cannot come at the expense of children’s rights and health.
Children cannot speak for themselves. So we must speak for them. It’s up to us, the adults, to defend them.