Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Good Intentions: Why IVF is wrong

If you are just joining the discussion, this is the 7th and final post in a series on infertility. You can read from the beginning by visiting the anchor post HERE. I write from a Christian perspective and everything that you will be reading here will be in line with the teachings of the catholic church. I am not capitalizing "catholic" because I mean that word to be "universal" as it relates to all Christianity and I want that to be apparent in my writing here. We need to see this from a larger context and the synonym for "universal" will help us get there better. With that said, I personally profess a Catholic faith and my perspective as a Christian will be apparent in this post. I hope that regardless of your faith, you will seek to join in this discussion with charity as we explore this topic further. There is a tremendous amount of value to be had from having non-Christians in this conversation, so I very much welcome that vantage point and any questions that ensue).

I'm going to start off by saying that I've bitten off more than I can chew here and I know it. But at the beginning of this series on infertility, I promised you concrete answers to big questions. So as the last post for this series, I definitely saved the big kahuna to share with you here.

So let's just dig in and figure out how to process this topic one piece at a time, shall we?



{Where Science and Religion Agree}

Infertility Awareness Week invariably begins and ends with the voice of in vitro fertilitzation (IVF) bellowing at the top of the crowd. In fact, there is hardly a catholic Christian voice to be heard in the discussion. And when there is, you'll find wild disagreement amongst the denominations (and even inside the same denomination!). What we're going to discuss here is why IVF is wrong and why it's wrong for everyone, Christian or not. But before we can do that, we have to lay some common ground that will carry us through the logic.

First, let's agree that life begins at conception. Want a scientific source for this fact? Here you go:
“Fertilization is the process by which male and female haploid gametes (sperm and egg) unite to produce a genetically distinct individual.”Signorelli et al., Kinases, phosphatases and proteases during sperm capacitation, CELL TISSUE RES. 349(3):765 (Mar. 20, 2012)
It is a fact that all mammalian life begins at conception. Everything after that moment is considered a phase of growth, from the moment of the first cell division through infancy. And since we're talking about IVF in this post, let's use an expert in that technology to fact-check ourselves on this before we go any further:
“The zygote is human life….there is one fact that no one can deny; Human beings begin at conception.” Landrum B. Shettles, M.D., P.h.D., first scientist to ever succeed at in vitro fertilization.

Next, let's agree on the real definition of infertility. I've already written a post about how to define infertility, so let's use that as our reference point to orient ourselves: Any couple who has not achieved a pregnancy after 6 months of fertility-focused intercourse, or any couple who has not achieved a pregnancy after 12 months of randomly timed acts of intercourse, is considered to meet the medical definition of infertility. There is a quite a bit more to it, but that's the simplified version we'll be using for this discussion on IVF.

Last, let's agree that truth is not a subjective topic. Truth is objective, which means that there is one truth that is the same for all people. The basis for right and wrong do not bend by circumstance or feeling or population. Truth, in terms of science, is an agnostic principle. It has nothing to do with any religious belief at all; it has more to do with the basis of philosophy, which is inherently agnostic to religion. When we have a conversation that is dependent upon a specific culture, society, or historical context...then you are talking about relativism, which is subjective. But given that we defined life scientifically as a very black and white physiological occurrence above (i.e. everything before conception differs from all the phases of life growth after conception), there is no gray area left for relativism (or subjective reasoning) left in the conversation.

Alright, I think we're ready for an ordered conversation, regardless of your vantage point!


{The Christian Perspective}


In Christianity, we are taught that men and women are begotten, not made. We hear it in common prayers in many denominations all around the world, as well as in professions of faith in several Christian churches. Right there in that one phrase, we instantly see a reference to scientific truth about human reproduction. Begotten is the past tense of beget. Men and women bring about human offspring from sexual intercourse: this is how a child is begotten. Christians believe in the scientific definition of human conception, because these truths are written into the Scripture that they follow.

Now where does technology fall into this, you might be asking? We're specifically talking about infertility this past week, so it's important to understand this discussion in the context of that cross. This is where the conversation usually turns to medical interventions, what it considered licit, and what a couple may objectively do with an act of intercourse in the effort to beget a child. It's not necessarily a conversation where we look at what each denomination allows or disallows, so much as it is a conversation where we notice the inconsistency in Christian awareness on the topic of how to approach infertility. Truly, there is one Christian vantage point. There is one immovable truth. It's the same truth we find in science: Objective Truth. And our belief in God roots us in this kind of truth in a way that nothing else can. It's not a stretch to say that all Christians believe the same thing here. So let's explore that with a specific focus on how IVF is the same thing for all of us. And let's discuss why IVF is wrong for all Christians, based on our belief in objective truth, not the opinions of men. And when we enter into that discussion, we'll be asking a lot of question about why it matters one way or the other. There are a lot of reasons, and we're not going to be able to cover all of them. I hope to present at least a few compelling biological and spiritual reasons here though. And I hope we keep coming up with more meaty questions about IVF as a result of the discussion here.

Christians tend to flock to Bible passages (like Proverbs 30:16 "A barren womb is never satisfied") for their justifications on why they resort to IVF. Truly though, Infertility Awareness Week provides us with a unique time to talk about this and dispel the lies that the IVF industry feeds us, since it is the temptation that is staring all infertile couples in the face. There is no Biblical foundation for IVF that we can root ourselves in either. And as we are inundated with giveaways this month for "free IVF cycle" raffles and "free consultations", under the guise of a "caring medical clinic", we need to realize that regardless of how wonderfully attentive an IVF technician is, they are much like the abortionist with the wonderful personality! There is still intrinsic evil involved, regardless of how comfortable we feel. And feeling good about evil and a perversion of the truth is a lure of Satan and something that is only able to be achieved in darkness. So let's shine some light on why IVF isn't the answer for Christian couple (or any human, of any variety)...

Why is natural uninterupted intercourse so important in the process of making a child? Why would someone want to say no to a medical advance that allows them to work around the cycle of fertility that a woman and a man share together in the pursuit of creating a new life? And why is there an ethical debate about the entire topic? Let's see if we can answer those!


{How IVF Works}

Let's all get a little more familiar with exactly what IVF is and how it is performed:

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a process by which human life is created outside of the context of sexual intercourse. It occurs in a lab and in a glass petri dish (in vitro literally means "in glass"). IVF requires that a technician hyper-stimulates a woman's ovaries with hormones in an attempt to harvest multiple eggs during one cycle, which is something that the human body does not naturally do on its own. The administration of hormones is intense and a woman risks the loss of her ovary in the process of hyper-stimulation. Once there are multiple eggs to harvest, the technician must also have a semen sample to work with, which is something the man provides independently via an act of masturbation. (The fact that the sample is usually collected by an act of masturbation, which is an act that degrades the human dignity of a man and turns him into an object, is a completely different topic for discussion, but suffice it to say that we can't condone this as Christians.) Once both gametes have been washed and prepared, the technician will choose which sperm and which egg to use, and complete fertilization and wait for cell division to occur under microscopic observation (and often microscopic time-lapsed video). Now remember what we said earlier (all human life begins at conception)? That means that even if only one egg was fertilized with one sperm, a human life was created at the moment that happened. The baby exists in that petri dish from that moment, waiting for all the phases of growth that come after that moment. Christians believe that a human is assigned a soul from the moment life begins... so in a very real way, we must acknowledge that indeed a soul lives in that petri dish.

Now without any further action on anyone's part, the baby will eventually be unable to sustain its cell division and growth in that dish. It will certainly die. IVF is a process that seeks to harvest many eggs and many sperm. The fertilization process isn't done one at a time. They perform these fertilizations in batches, doing several at a time. Then they wait to see which ones "take". Yes, that means that they wait to see which children die and which survive. There is no effort or technology that exists that can prevent the death of these embryos....so the death of some children is something we have to accept in every single act of IVF. Yes, the labs use "therapeutic cultures" to try and aid rapid cell division, but no, they don't have a way to save the embryos that slow their growth or stop altogether. We've not even gotten to the stage where embryo transfer happens, and we already have dead babies.

Now this is the part where religion takes a hard stand. If every child has a right to life and a right to be born, how are we saying that the ones we just sacrificed in the petri dish for the good of another....got that benefit? The answer is that we have to pretend it's not a human being and dismiss it's human dignity in order to ignore this scientific fact. We have to tell ourselves that it was acceptable for a certain number of children to be killed in order for one to be able to transfer into the uterus. Or we have to pretend they aren't children at all, but we know they are with scientific certainty. When we make these shortcuts on dignity and we talk our way around these embryos not being children, we are saying that a child only has worth and value if we subjectively say it does. This is the moment where most Christians, upon learning about how the process works, will turn away from IVF. We need to remember that an IVF clinic is not going to use terms like "dead babies" with its cash paying (or worse, insurance paying) customers. They will wash and prepare the language they use with their customers just as carefully as they wash and prepare the gametes for fertilization. When we turn the prospect of creating human life into a business transaction, we can expect to lose the weight and burden of the truth in the process. That's something we definitely see in the IVF process, and that's why it's an unacceptable option for Christians (and every other kind of human).

So back to our process explanation: With several children dead, and at least one (if not more) experiencing rapid cell growth, the technician knows that it is important to get the embryo out of the petri dish and into the woman. They prepare several at once so that they don't have to hyper-stimulate the ovaries more times than necessary, because of the severe health and injury risk it poses for the woman. Modern IVF rounds will limit the introduction of more than one embryo into the uterus at a  time, but it's fair to say that previous IVF procedures used to attempt the implantation of multiple embryos with each transfer. The hope is that at least one embryo will successfully implant in the lining of the uterus and continue to develop and grow. When the process fails and the child does not successfully implant, a miscarriage occurs. Yes, it is often too small to visualize among the lining and embryo that shed. It may simply look like a normal menstrual period to a woman who has undergone IVF. And in fact, the language used by an IVF clinic will often wash away any acknowledgement that a baby died, preferring to express that the "IVF round failed" instead. The dehumanization in the language is essential to keeping the customer. Again, we have to dismiss the dignity of the child and call the miscarriage a "failed IVF attempt" in order to avoid seeing it as a death. But since life began at conception, it is indeed a death. There was an embryo growing before the transfer, and it was unique and distinct from its mother and father (and indeed every other human that has ever existed), and the loss of it represents something that can never be repeated.

If the process succeeds however, one or many embryos will implant and gestate. It is important to mention here that the success rates for IVF are determined only on the basis of which embryos make it to the developmental phase where a heartbeat can be observed on ultrasound. The success rates on IVF are not based on live birth rates. A baby is often able to have a heartbeat visualized at 6 weeks gestation, and given that most miscarriages occur in the first trimester (before or at 12 weeks gestation), none of the massive number of miscarriages (likely to occur on their own, or more likely to occur because IVF actually predisposes you to miscarriage) are ever taken out of the IVF "success" rate. When you are quoted how successful IVF is, the percentage is inflated to include.....wait for it....a lot of dead babies. This is the third time we're dealing with and talking about dead babies in the IVF process. (There are fourth and fifth times, and we won't go into them here, but there is a high rate of late term loss, stillbirth, and infant death associated with IVF as well, so just know that as well.) And of course, the so-called end of the process that most people desire is the live birth of a healthy baby. IVF is limited in its capacity to provide that to parents, when compared to the large number of children it provides only death for....and if we had the capacity draw up percentages and rates, I believe people would be appalled at the truth.

In fact, even the co-discoverer of DNA (James Watson) had a conversation with IVF pioneer (Robert Edwards) about this topic, at the outset of the entire IVF process: "You can only go ahead with your work if you accept the necessity of infanticide. There are going to be a lot of mistakes. What are we going to do with the mistakes?” No child is a mistake, but this perspective explains why so many babies are killed in the process of performing even one round of IVF.


{The Dignity of Life}

Now let's shift gears a bit back to infertility and Christianity. It is a completely natural and totally legitimate want for a man and a woman to try to find ways to overcome their infertility. And from a religious perspective, Biblical Scripture tells us plenty about the topic of infertility in a variety of male and female figures. In fact, the many books are filled with different accounts of infertility at different maternal ages. And further, Christians are taught that the sorrow a woman feels at the pain of infertility cannot be diminished or erased, even by the love of her husband. It's such a lasting hurt that it can pull at the very seams of a marriage. It's very easy for an infertile couple today to relate to those stories and the pain those Biblical women feel. But instead of looking back thousands of years, let's explore something we can relate to even more: modern approaches to infertility treatment in the context of religion.

In 1968, there was an encyclical written that was entitled "Of Human Life" (Humanae Vitae). It specifically addressed the principles of Christian marriage, the responsibility of parents in bringing children into the world, the responsibility of scientists in approaching medical interventions through a Christian moral compass (to do no harm and to not circumvent the natural marital act of intercourse), as well as a need to avoid all direct abortion and sterilization for any reason.

Then in 1987, there was an encyclical written that was entitled "The Gift of Life" (Donum Vitae). It specifically addressed the morality of modern approaches to fertility treatments and procedures. While agnostic to the technology itself, the document did outline methods of infertility treatment that were decidedly immoral. Likewise, it also explained that some methods are completely moral. Right there, we have a Christian source for the fact that infertility treatment itself is not the issue. It's the manner in which it is accomplished. It concluded that some methods are moral, while others—because they do violence to the dignity of the human person and the institution of marriage—are immoral. Donum Vitae reaffirmed an obligation to protect all human life when married couples use various technologies to try to have children. Without questioning the motives of those using these techniques, Donum Vitae pointed out that people can do harm to themselves and others even as they try to do what is good, that is, overcome infertility. The fundamental principle which the Church used to assess the morality of various means of overcoming infertility was a rather simple one, even if its application is sometimes difficult:

Donum Vitae teaches that if a given medical intervention helps or assists the marriage act to achieve pregnancy, it may be considered moral; if the intervention replaces the marriage act in order to create life, it is not moral. That is to say, there is a valid Christian source that defines IVF as immoral. And of course then there is an entire publication just about bioethics called Dignitas Personae...

Even if we ignore all of the many writings about ethics, fertility, infertility (and the morality of its' treatment) provided to us over the years from the Christian perspective, we know what feels right and what doesn't. When we put the gift of a child on a throne so tall that we are willing to do anything to worship it, we will talk ourselves into any means to achieve that "height". When we ignore our conscience—the voice of the Holy Spirit telling us what is right and what is wrong—we are turning our back on God's Divine Will for our lives. We are saying "your plan didn't work for me" and "we've got a better idea". When we place ourselves in the position to act as gods like this, we aren't living a faith that can be described as Christian at all. Rather, we are making ourselves a deity, and hoping there is a place for us to find forgiveness in our former belief system.

Many people will argue that their pastor, priest, minister, or reverend will give them permission to undergo IVF and they use that as their Christian basis for doing the invasive and deadly procedures. I would offer that we need to inform our own consciences in accordance with God's will more than we need to seek permission of clergy on the complexities of medical procedures. When we ultimately know the science already, and we ultimately have a gut feeling that removing the marital act of sexual intercourse with our spouse from the creation of life is wrong, there is no answer that a leader of a church can give us that will make it right. We cannot project the responsibility of our own actions onto the permission we sought from someone else who is not the creator of human dignity and life itself. God is in charge of the creative process, and we’re not to tamper with it or replace it, which is exactly what IVF does. We have an internal intuition about what crosses the line and we know that IVF is playing God. There is no way to find permission for something immoral and a case for IVF can never be found moral based on the scientific realities of how it is performed, what it accepts as collateral damage (i.e. the destruction of life being acceptable in the attempt to create life), and the weight and burden that it places on our Christian hearts in the form of culpability and being complicit with an intrinsic evil (i.e. the destruction of life for the purpose of elevating our own will above God's).

With that all said (and yes, I realize this subsection alone could have spanned an entire book and I've barely bitten off enough in just a few paragraphs), let's look towards the scientific realities of human reproduction and see if they provide some clarity to us on why we don't want to interfere with conception, but rather treat underlying health conditions. We will find a lot of truth in God's design for us there and it will help us to answer some of our bigger questions on why we don't (and can't) avoid the natural act of sexual intercourse in the creation of our children.


{A Look at Female Anatomy and the Male Gamete}

Now we're back to asking why, from a scientific perspective, we want to avoid making a life in a petri dish. You have to understand a good deal of anatomy and physiology in order for the science to make sense though, so we're going to delve into that now.

The human body has many organ systems. They all operate by communicating with one another, powered by the brain. The way organs communicate with one another is through the production of hormones. Think of them as the "Marco - Polo" messengers of the body. Now let's talk about that in specific regard to human fertility in a woman. The brain can release one hormone to prompt the growth of ovarian follicles...and then the ovary releases another to say when it's ready to ovulate. That messaging ping-pong keeps going until the body is regulating things seamlessly throughout the entire process of the menstrual cycle.

Let's be more specific though: In the beginning of the menstrual cycle, when the anterior pituitary releases FSH to stimulate the theca interna cells of the human ovarian follicles, estradiol is released as a response. Estradiol acts to do several things, but for the purposes of this conversation, we're going to stay focused on one particular action of estradiol: stimulation of the tiny crypts in the cervix. That job is by far one of the most germane to this IVF conversation...and actually, to the conception of all human life (through a natural act of intercourse).

Here's why you should care about this minutia, even if you aren't science-minded! When estradiol reaches the crypts of the cervix (yes the cervix is its own organ, and yes it has little cavern-like crypts in it), some of the receptor cells on the walls of each crypt respond by producing mucus. (side tangent: each crypt is responsible for producing a different kind of mucus, if you can imagine that!)

In the beginning of the menstrual cycle, that mucus might look sticky and pasty and cloudy white in consistency. Under microscopic observation, you'd see what looks like a traffic jam in Naples at rush hour (pictured below, right). Sperm cannot penetrate this kind of mucus. Given that it weeps out of the cervical opening, this is what sperm would come in contact with first in a transmission of semen in the vagina. It will essentially act as a genetic "plug" to prevent any sperm getting further towards their intended destination.

As the month goes on, cells of the cervical crypts will respond differently to the hormone secretions. Some will begin to create a very different kind of mucus. In fact, the higher the estradiol production gets, the more this mucus will resemble egg whites in consistency. Under microscopic observation, that mucus will resemble an 8 lane highway in Los Angeles with NO TRAFFIC ON IT. There will be neatly packed bundles of channels in the mucus and they will be evenly spaced. The biological purpose of this is to act as a genetic filter for sperm (pictured below, left). While it facilitates the easy transportation of sperm into the uterus, nourishes the sperm, and helps sperm mature....the most important function may be that it prevents the malformed sperm from even getting into a channel.

Given that a normal healthy male provides about 500 million sperm in each transmission of semen into the vagina during intercourse, there are bound to be plenty of irregular sperm that are produced, and this genetic filtering action is necessary. The body filters it very differently than a human technician can. You see, the vagina is naturally a very acidic environment. Cervical mucus is naturally alkaline. It is the combined pH that the mucus makes as it weeps into the vagina that creates a hospitable environment for the sperm to survive, be nourished and prepared for egg penetration, and transported farther up the reproductive tract. Take a look at these three illustrations to understand and better visualize the qualities of the mucus and the basic anatomy of the cervical crypts that we've just been talking through.



So with all of those details established, any sperm that are eventually allowed to have a chance for fertilizing an egg...must have the capacity to fit in and adeptly swim through the channels of the fertile mucus (pictured above, left). And the egg they are searching for is undergoing many changes at the same time.

Each month, a handful of follicles (and the eggs inside them) are stimulated to grow. One follicle will grow more rapidly than the others and become dominant. The body actually selects this dominant follicle for ovulation of its egg, and the remaining follicles that had been growing on the ovary that cycle will shrink and die. The egg inside the dominant follicle will ripen, and the body will allow it to continue in the process towards ovulation by sending a message to the brain to make that happen. Current medical science doesn't understand why the body chooses a certain follicle to release a certain egg. But since the body is in charge of that decision, logic would hold that the healthier egg (or some unknown metric of egg superiority, perhaps one involving the hormone reactive cells in the follicle itself?) will get a preference over the other follicles that were allowed to begin to mature that cycle. This is the cyclic nature of the pre-peak phase of the menstrual cycle, to be repeated until menopause, in every human woman. Given that a woman has a finite number of eggs from puberty through menopause, the number of eggs stimulated each cycle is important. It is not a renewable resource in the same way it is for the man.


{Connecting the Pieces}

So why do you care? Let's think back to the section above where the IVF procedure is detailed. Technicians stimulate massive quantities of eggs with intense levels of hormones. Technicians choose the egg to use. Technicians choose the sperm to use. There is no mucus travel to mature or choose the sperm. There is no regular hormone maturation of the follicle, its cells, or the egg and its cumulus. There is no genetic filter being used to select the best sperm. And in fact, the number of eggs that die after an ovary is hyper-stimulated is significantly larger than what occurs naturally. This means that a woman's reserve depletes exponentially quicker when she undergoes just one IVF cycle.

With IVF, you are depending on a technician to make the choice of who gets created, without the benefit of the natural process. There is no amount of "washing" that replaces what cervical mucus should do. Did you know that the mucus actually creates such dramatic changes in the head of the sperm as to make it able to penetrate the outer membrane of the egg more readily? Not every sperm is capable of penetrating the egg, nor would it, given the chance to try naturally! And more importantly, since the female body is not choosing the egg, the egg you get might have been one that your body would have discarded for an important reason. And the sperm that is injected directly into the egg's nucleus... might have never had the capacity to penetrate the egg on its own for some sound biological reason. Circumventing the body's process through the use of IVF fundamentally changes who would be created for that couple. And in the meantime, several children are killed to do so.

IVF is wrong because it cannot exist in a vacuum of perfection where children are safe from the harm of it. IVF is wrong because it cannot treat the underlying causes of infertility that make the body unable to support, create, and carry children. Infertility is a disease and there is ALWAYS a cause for it. IVF ignores the cause. IVF ignores the disease. And children die because of it. IVF ignores the important messages that your body is sending you through symptoms that can tell you what is wrong.IVF is wrong because it encourages doctors in their training to circumvent the natural reproductive system instead of learning how to fix it. IVF exists for the purpose of profit and not for the purpose of creating life. IVF is wrong because it demeans the life of children for the purpose of selling children at a profit. IVF is wrong because it pretends to promote science, but fails to live up to the simple truths that the science speaks. IVF is wrong because it objectifies and reduces the marital act of sexual intercourse between a husband and wife into the chromosomal property of the man and woman, as a commodity to be bought, sold, frozen, and traded.

Let's talk a little about freezing too: Freezing embryos is immoral. Some Christians will say that they don't intend to implant more than the woman can carry, that they intend on using only their "marital gametes" for the process, and that they are committed to "freezing the leftovers" for future implantation to avoid killing any children. When we recognize that an embryo is a living human being, there is no question on morality: we can NOT freeze living human beings in any good conscience for any reason. It's wrong. It crosses a line. And we need to recognize that freezing embryos increases the death count. Not every embryo will survive the freezing and thawing process. Even when scientists and technicians and doctors are as careful as possible and avoid any mistakes in the process, there will still be multiple baby deaths.

More importantly, there are more effective ways to treat infertility. There are moral and ethical ways. Christians have better options than the seductive, dehumanized lure to IVF. And all of the better approaches to infertility actually achieve better results and higher rates of pregnancy than IVF. (Did you know that of the estimated 9 million women suffering from infertility each year, the CDC estimates only .44% will give birth as a result of any form of ART, not just IVF...?) There are better ways of achieving healthy live births than IVF (or any form of ART)! I'm going to talk about a few of them in the weeks to come. One of them involves NaPro.Technology. but that's not the only option. So between now and when I finish those posts on what the better options are, feel free to use the resources on this blog to help you find a doctor or surgeon nearest to you that can help you using NaPro treatments.

When we commit to caring SO much about children that we are willing to sacrifice for each one of them, we will shine a light on the truth about IVF. When we commit to living the Christian values that we espouse, we will shine a light on the dark truths about IVF. When we commit to researching the anatomy, physiology, hormonal biochemistry, and overall scientific truth about human reproduction and human conception....we will realize that what IVF does is sell us lies, half truths, and a marketing package of "hope" while it kills our children and demeans our human dignity in Christian marriage. You simply can't be pro-life and also be pro-IVF.


{The Pitfalls of Awareness}

Now let's get back to the beginning of the conversation where we talked about how Infertility Awareness Week becomes largely a discussion amongst and for IVF and other artificial means of creating children. In my anchor post on this series, I talked about how we wouldn't discuss awareness much here. If you are infertile, you are well aware of that painful fact. But more importantly, infertility brings on its heels the hope of every desperate man and woman who craves tangible growth in their family. The temptation to do IVF lives around every corner. You can ignore your health problems and have a baby for $$, they tell us. And the misinformation and dangers that are a part of the process are clouded from those who so desperately need the truth in order to be able to make an informed decision on what is best for their family.

IVF clinics will cajole suffering parents into committing to 10's of thousands of dollars worth of medical treatment. And with no guarantee for a child, the product that is sold becomes "false hope". And with the dangers that are involved in hyper-stimulating a woman's ovaries, she risks losing organs, internal bleeding, hormonal psychosis, clinical depression, and an inability to receive any other kind of infertility treatment in the future, among other things. IVF clinics will sell married couples (and single women too!) a dream about how beautiful their family can be. Just pick a gender, they say! Just pick an eye color, they say! Avoid genetic mutations and health conditions, they say! There is no end to the way that an IVF clinic or doctor will try to sell you their product. They are salespeople first and foremost and they depend on you buying their pitch. And even if they don't go in for the "hard sell" with you in your situation, they won't be sharing the entire truth with you about the nature of the procedure. In truth, no one needs IVF. It's not effective or affordable, and it doesn't treat the medical issue that your infertility actually is. And no amount of dead children can be accepted for the possibility of the birth of one.

Furthermore, the entire approach of IVF is wrong. When we condition ourselves to think that treating the health of a woman is secondary, or even something to be ignored, we are preparing ourselves for lives that will be filled with poor medical care. And indeed, we do more than expect poor medical care when we do that - we lower the bar for what people should strive to in medical treatment across the entire spectrum. From patients to doctors, IVF tells us that true health isn't a priority. Treating the underlying medical condition becomes something that doctors *used* to be trained to do. IVF teaches us that substandard medical care is really the gold standard. Just ignore the problem and try to circumvent it with drugs and brute force! Because the new standard of care involves nothing short of manhandling the female menstrual cycle into submission with intense hormone therapy, among other things. Did you know that almost every single person who has ever undergone IVF is hormonally in danger of miscarriage from the moment they undertake treatment? It's because the IVF process itself actually induces an unnatural luteal phase defect. When you hyper-stimulate the ovaries, you are causing a condition of estrogen dominance...and that leads to poor progesterone production from the corpus luteum (which is the organ that develops from the burst follicle that is responsible for the maintenance of the pregnancy through the production of progesterone!). We're not talking about minor things here. And we haven't even begun to discuss (nor will we have time!) the increased risk for ectopic pregnancy because of the hormonal changes and how they impact the velocity of egg and embryo travel in the tubes!

It's not even possible to count the number of people who have been lied to about the situation involving their infertility, promised that they'd never have children any other way by technicians (not even doctors!) in white lab coats who never even tested the underlying cause of their infertility. In truth, the only thing most reproductive endocrinologists will do is test you for "fitness to undergo IVF". In fact, they have partnerships with those who provide the services (or they do it themselves - even more convenient!), and their only goal from the beginning was to fit you into an IVF category. That's not medical care....that's the medical equivalent of used car sales.

It makes you think a lot about the lies of the abortion industry, doesn't it? When your health is secondary, you will never receive unbiased, sound medical advice. Much like an abortionist will happily perform an abortion on a woman who isn't even pregnant (yes, this happens), an IVF specialist is willing to do whatever it takes to get you to sign on the dotted line for an expensive IVF cycle, regardless of the cause of your infertility. Poor egg quality? They'll tell you that you'll never conceive with your own eggs, but there is a way to successfully treat this condition without IVF. Poor ovulation? They'll tell you that you don't ovulate, but there is a way to treat that condition too without IVF. Poor luteal phase? They'll tell you that you aren't capable of carrying a baby to term, but there is a way to treat and heal your luteal phase without IVF. None of these scenarios require IVF.

In fact, IVF and abortion are pretty easy to lump together for other reasons too. They are financially connected, so the corollary I'm drawing here isn't even a stretch. Implant a baby with IVF that isn't what you want? Abortion or "reduction" is the first thing you'll be told to do. When we treat a baby as a dehumanized "product of fertilizaton", it's easy to treat it like something that can be gotten rid of without any moral obligation. And speaking of morals, both IVF and abortion are about the same. Children are not a choice once they have been conceived. They are the voiceless among us, and within us, who don't get to plead for their dignity and rights to life once we have perverted the process by which they came into being. It's enough that any Christian should turn their back on IVF as an "option". There is nothing innocent about IVF, those who provide it, or those who support it - just like there is nothing innocent about abortion, those who provide it, or those who support it.

Lastly, I will share that all children, regardless of how they are conceived, are precious. When we talk about the sin of the process, we are not attaching that sin to the innocent child involved. I just wish that children were not dangled as luxury items in the faces of infertile couples through the process of IVF. And I wish that Infertility Awareness Week was not such a playground for all of the Christians among us who pretend they aren't supporting the killing of children. You can't partake in IVF and have zero child deaths on yours hands. And any live birth resulting from it cannot replace or make up for the number of children who were sacrificed for it.

Your IVF money supports an industry that considers a certain number of child deaths acceptable and the use of abortion to be routine. Your IVF money supports the freezing of excess embryos, denying those children their right to be born or live a life. Your IVF money supports the degradation of the family by removing the natural construct needed for conception. Your IVF money supports all of the horrific research done in the name of "science". Your IVF money may even get you a medical error, a switched embryo, or a life-threatening medical condition. Even when your IVF money gets you a baby, your hands are not clean. And as Christians, that is an unacceptable prospect. We answer to a higher calling, and we should fear God's judgment of how we "accepted his children lovingly into our families". As scientists and those of sound logic and reason, we recognize that IVF is a for-profit industry, like all corporate ventures, and that the integrity of science is easily perverted by the sway of profit. As biologists, we recognize the need for the natural process to culminate in a human conception, instead of circumventing the process in a way that encourages injury and death. And as women, we recognize that any medical treatment or technique that ignores the primary cause of an underlying condition or disease.... is not a risk we should be taking. And more importantly, it's not medicine.

Thank you so much for reading and I look forward to a wonderful discussion with everyone on this topic. And thank you for reading along with this series on Infertility. You all have blessed me a hundred times over with the thoughtful comments, messages, and private emails that you have sent. St. Gerard, pray for us.


This post is the seventh (and final) in a series on infertility. If you'd like to read from the beginning, click on the picture below to read the original post in the series where all of the posts will be linked.

16 comments:

  1. Wow! This post was a true labor of love. Thanks for working so hard to get such an important perspective out there. I'm right there with you on all of this! It needs to be heard more in our secular culture. One article that really touched me when I was trying to find more information to help couples considering IVF was this one: http://www.catholicsistas.com/2014/10/22/my-journey-through-in-vitro-fertilization/. I feel if you add your article to the personal witness of that one, BAM. Both super convincing of staying the h-e-double-hockey-sticks away from IVF. Thank you for writing this! I hope it spreads across the interwebs like wildfire.

    Quick question about freezing humans. And this is just me being uneducated on the topic. Aside from the freezing process causing the death of many of these created embryos, is there another reason why freezing humans is considered immoral? If someday adult humans had the option of being frozen to, say, be kept alive while the cure for some incurable disease they have has more time to be discovered, would that be immoral? And why? ... from a theological perspective, that is. I know I'm going off track here, but I'm just curious to know more about the immorality of freezing humans.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the kind words! I really appreciate them. And yes, it TRULY was a labor of love to write this piece. Emphasis on the labor... :P

      On the morality of freezing human life - it's a great question and I had to research to understand that more clearly myself over the course of writing this piece. Essentially, the answer lies in how God is the author of life - from natural conception to death. He determines when those things are granted to us...and all the number of our days in between them. When you create and freeze an embryo, you are simultaneously acting like God as a "creator" and denying access to His number of days for that person you "created". Is disordered, squared.

      It's not like even being in a coma. There is no life process happening in a cryogenic state that allows for growth, development, and life to be lived. As in, you couldn't ever expect (through the passage of a VERY long time) for a cryogenically frozen baby to eventually reach adulthood on its own. It's a frozen man-made purgatory, where there is no judgment, no reparations for sin, and no momentum towards waiting in hope for the Resurrection.

      As Christians, we can't condone taking someone's ability to live a life from them any more than we can extinguish their life outright. In fact, it's fair to say that 99% of all IVF babies die because of the IVF processes. A lot of that percentage is due to not surviving the thawing process, not proliferating in the petri dish, not implanting when transferred, and of course the ectopics/miscarriages/stillbirths and infant deaths.

      Of just the few people I know who have adopted "snowflake babies" in Christian circles, they lose about 75% of the babies at thawing. I'm not sure what the formal "death by thawing" number is though, if there even is such a calculation! It has to be high though. So maybe think of freezing like a death sentence itself? Also, they only tend to freeze "high quality" embryos. that means that the process OF freezing justifies killing other embryos.

      Hope that helps a little?

      Delete
  2. So, so well-written and incredibly thorough. You brought up a few points that I've never thought about when considering those who are faced with IVF or nothing. Specifically, the "natural selection process", if you will, qualities that the mucus possesses. Did I snooze through that part of EPI/II or did you find that information elsewhere? Also--love the graphic used and the description of Naples at rush hour or the open 8-lane highway in LA with no traffic. I'm definitely using that at this month's intro session :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for all of the kind words, Deb! So glad you like the analogy too...I found it gets a laugh when I use it.

      To answer your question: some of what I mentioned is a part of EP1 and some of it is from my own research. For instance, did you know that after sperm transmission into the reproductive tract, there is a part of the sperm's journey where chemicals in the female reproductive tract (mainly in the tubes) cause the membranes covering the heads of the sperm to actually change? The chemical change makes the sperm become hyperactive so that it swims more vigorously against the ciliated current in the tube...in order to reach the egg at the right place and time. It's endlessly fascinating to me how many necessary intricacies we've been able to establish about the entire process of sperm travel to the egg. It all happens for a reason. And some things are unique for a reason.

      Delete
  3. This is wonderful. Thank you for taking the time to write all of this!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the kind words! I'm glad you found it valuable. So often, I have wanted an article I could share with someone on why IVF is wrong...and never had something written broadly enough to be able to use it. I hoped this might allow others to share it with their family and friends, especially when they are pressured to do IVF. Sometimes it helps to have the words of another person to communicate why, doesn't it?

      Delete
  4. Interesting blog post. I am 28 years old and unable to conceive because of scar tissue from lifesaving surgeries when I was 6 weeks old and again at 9 years old. We have tried corrective surgery and less aggressive treatment to no avail. I have prayed for 5 years that if biological children were not God's plan for me, He would change my desire for family growing--give us hearts for adoption. At this point, we choose to proceed with IVF. We hope to cause as little loss of life as possible--no more than would have happened with natural conception. As far as technicians deciding which eggs and sperm to use... my protocol places all harvested eggs and sperm into a petri dish, and the next day, any fertilized eggs are cultured--no picking or choosing involved. I do know, we will be responsible with the number of embryos we will transfer. Our doctor will know that "selective reduction" aka murder, is not acceptable to us. I also know that we will give every viable embryo created a chance to live. I hope that my friends and family will be able to continue praying for us and supporting us as we move on to IVF in the same manner they have been praying and supporting us with our other approaches.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am infertile/recurrent miscarriage who also does not feel called to adoption. A childless marriage is something that is a reality in my house, especially to my husband who is the oldest of 10. We will never seem to form children outside of my womb because it propagates the idea that children are a commodity. Every person says oh that's not my intent or desire, but every single one of them still contributes to the larger issue. My husband is a lawyer and in law school, an IVF doctor visited his bioethics class and described every single ethical dilemma that ever arose from IVF. And at the end, he said, "you know who never suffers in these scenarios? Devout Catholics. Because they never come and see me in the first place." In all those scenarios he described, all of those people were living their own personal experiences and convictions and still nevertheless were contributing to the problem.

    But to Hannah, doctors trained in the surgical fellowship in NaProTechnology are able to deal with adhesions. I knew a person with stage four endo and adhesions from previous surgeries and attempted removal who was 7 years infertility - and I attended her baby shower last week after ONE surgery with our surgical fellow. It took awhile to conceive after because her body had a lot to heal from, but it was worth it. IVF has a worldwide live birth failure rate of 77% according to the CDC. Why do you think that is? Because of underlying conditions that they don't treat! Like severe adhesions, endo, hormonal issues they don't treat, etc. Why would you entrust your children that you seem so keen to protect to an unhealthy condition that might not allow them to survive, just because so you are so desperate to have a baby? That's the attitude I really can't and don't understand and will never be able to get behind. We might have had losses, but we have done and continue to seek to do the utmost for their safety every single time we try to conceive naturally.

    At the end of the day, what it comes down to is that I trust God and if He chooses not to give us children, then I trust Him in that and have to be able to move on from those hopes and ask where He wants my focus to be next. The type of attitude that leads to IVF is the kind that says I "deserve" a baby and I will have a baby at any cost. Well, God owes me nothing. I owe Him everything. I struggle with trusting Him, but in the end, I do trust Him. He says no? Oh, I'll fuss,scream, cry, throw things, curse, and maybe I won't go to church for a year, but I'll always come back to Him because He's still the best thing that ever happened to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, great words !! Bless you in your journey

      Delete
  6. Thank you for this blog post. My husband and I have been trying to achieve pregnancy for 3 years, utilizing NaPro Technology. Recently our doctor ran some tests and we discovered that we will not be able to conceive naturally because of non-obstructive azoospermia. We have seen some specialists and they suggest that it might be possible to conceive by IVF if sperm can be found through a TESE procedure. I have no interest in pursuing IVF but I have had trouble finding resources to help me better understand the issue from a Christian perspective and to articulate the problems to others. I appreciate the work you did to compile information here.

    My husband and I know many people who have utilized IVF to conceive children and most of them were very thoughtful about how they went about it, never freezing embryos and never selectively reducing/aborting. Many of the arguments I've found online are not very helpful in addressing negative aspects of IVF apart from the obvious problems of freezing or selectively reducing embryos. My friends will respond that simply because IVF can be abused in that way, does not mean that IVF is inherently wrong. So, I appreciate that you addressed this issue from its foundation.

    I am interested in learning more. Do you recommend any particular resources for learning more about the physiological process of sperm transmission and how the female's reproductive tract interacts? I am also interested in reading more about the Christian understanding of the sexual act and why it is that the physical act is so integral to procreation, even when technology now allows us to separate the two actions. I plan to start by reading Humanae Vitae and Donum Vitae, but I am not Roman Catholic, so I would also appreciate any resources that might focus more on Scripture than on the authority of the Catholic church. Thank you for any resources you can recommend! I appreciate your work and I also greatly appreciate the work and the strong stance of the Catholic church on this issue. It is disappointing how few other Christians are thinking and writing about the implications of Assisted Reproductive Technology.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Of course I cannot congratulate you enough for this essay. It is brilliant. While researching the topic, I also came across this paper (linked below). It would be great if you could comment on it.

    http://www.amirrorclear.net/academic/papers/scourge.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  8. That's really awesome blog because i found there lot of valuable Information and i am very glad that you share this blog with us.Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj

    ReplyDelete
  9. As the IVF process involves the manual interaction of sperm and egg therefore, increases the chance of fertilisation. You can visit our centre, to get the treatment.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow, this is such a selfish and shortsighted post. Death of fertilized embryos occurs in many women, often without their knowledge. Not all conceptions are meant to survive, and considering the number of miscarriages that occur every year, this is obvious . Be fruitful and multiply, it is written, a society with a bunch of infertile, miserable couples does nothing benefit.

    ReplyDelete