Florida voters can decide to support IVF…or not

January 30, 2012Carole No Comments »

Newt Gingrich, on the eve of the primary election in Florida, promised to ban stem cell research and raised questions about the practice of in vitro fertilization which can result in the production of excess embryos. He promised evangelical supporters that he would form a commission to study the ethics of in vitro fertilization. He suggested that creation of excess embryos which may be stored and never used- even discarded by the patients that created them- is unethical.  Once again, IVF is being batted around as a political catnip for the social conservatives. It seems to me that in a country that holds as sacrosanct the right for an individual to practice any religion (or lack thereof) they desire, any claim of a single religious authority to decide what medical care other Americans are allowed to have is un-American.

Some patients share these religious concerns and are completely within their rights to not participate in IVF treatment. Alternately, they may ask their IVF team to only attempt to fertilize as many eggs as they would be prepared to transfer, eliminating the risk of having any excess embryos being created. Their IVF team must also advise these patients that limiting the number of eggs that are fertilized reduces their chances of pregnancy. Furthermore, because of the natural attrition rate or loss of clinical specimens at each step of IVF (not all eggs will fertilize normally and not all fertilized eggs are guaranteed to develop in culture), it is possible they will have nothing to transfer. Because patients have a right to make decisions about their own healthcare, the team respects the patient’s right to choose to modify the procedure.

Excess embryos are stored in the lab for the use of patients but the clinical program does not own the embryos. Patients have the authority over the fate of their embryos in storage.  They can decide to use them in future attempts at pregnancy until they have completed their family. Most patients “use up” all their frozen embryos for their own reproductive efforts. If excess embryos persist after treatment is complete, currently patients have the right to decide to donate their embryos to another couple but are not currently compelled to do so. Alternatively, patients can currently decide to donate their embryos to stem cell research or thaw without use.

Florida voters have a choice to make tomorrow. Most if not all the voters heading to the poll tomorrow know someone who suffered from infertility and were able to conceive using IVF. They should ask themselves whether they want to support politicians who support the restriction or  elimination of existing patient rights to choose IVF and determine the fate of their embryos. I am reminded about the famous quote from the pastor  Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) who was referring to the indifference of the majority of the population when the government targeted people they didn’t care about so much.

First they came for the  communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I was Protestant.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

We are more alike as Americans than we are different. We need to speak up for and protect the rights of all Americans to make choices about their healthcare and their family.

© 2012 – 2013, Carole. All rights reserved.

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