- (Photo: Doreen Dotto/Wikimedia Commons)
A medical report released Wednesday suggests that women using in-vitro fertilization (IVF) should have only one or two embryos transferred during one IVF cycle, depending on their age, perhaps adding support to the argument that the medical procedure often unnecessarily leads to the destruction of precious lives.
In-vitro fertilization involves fertilizing a woman’s egg with a man’s sperm while it is outside of her body. The eggs are extracted from the ovaries during follicular aspiration surgery, and then placed in a test tube or petri dish to be fertilized by sperm.
According to the Christian community, there are two main ethical issues with in-vitro fertilization. First, eggs that are not transplanted into the womb are often frozen, and later used for stem cell research, subsequently being destroyed in the process. Secondly, in-vitro fertilization often times results in multiple live births, which women may choose to abort due to their unpreparedness for twins or triplets.
The study published Wednesday in British medical journal The Lancet could arguably serve as a remedy to these dilemmas. In the study, researchers suggest that no more than two embryos should be transferred during any IVF procedure to protect the woman’s health.
The research was conducted from Jan. 2003 to Dec. 2007, and the data was compiled by the United Kingdom’s fertility database, the U.K. Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority.
Researchers separated women by age, categorizing them as either "over 40 years old" or "under 40 years old."
For women over 40, researchers found that transferring more than one embryo resulted in a higher rate of live births, while transferring three or more embryos resulted in health complications for both the woman and the baby.
The health complications are due in part the the higher chances of birthing twins or triplets.
From these results, researchers concluded that women over forty should only have two embryos transferred, while women under 40 should only have one embryo transferred.
In-vitro fertilization has long been a controversial topic in the Christian community. As previously stated, couples may harvest more eggs than they end up using, meaning some of the embryos are destroyed or frozen for future use. These frozen embryos may be thrown out as well, especially if the couple conceives immediately and chooses not to donate the frozen eggs.
Many times, the "left over" eggs are used for stem cell research. There are two types of stem cell research: adult stem cells, and the more controversial embryonic stem cells. Unused eggs from in-vitro fertilization would be used for embryonic stem cell research. Christians disagree with embryonic stem cell research because it involves destroying a embryo, and most Christians agree that human life begins at conception, according to a 2007 ChristiaNet.com poll.
One way to remedy this problem is to only harvest the eggs that the couple plans to implant in the womb, some observers have suggested.
Adult stem cell research, however, uses cells derived from from living bone marrow, blood, skin, organ and brain tissue, and body fat. Christians are far more comfortable with adult stem cell research, because it does not involve destroying a human life.
Dr. Dan Lebovic, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, does not believe the results of the British study have an affect on how many eggs would be used for the IVF procedure.
Lebovic told The Christian Post in an email that if doctors do choose to only transfer one or two embryos, that "it would seem more probable that there would be more embryos to freeze/dispose."
"If five transferable embryos were created, then using two or three initially will necessarily lead to fewer to freeze (two or three), whereas transferring fewer of this cohort of five, let’s say transferring one or two, would necessarily lead to more remaining to freeze/dispose (three or four)."
In-vitro fertilization also poses the problem of abortion. When women are implanted with several embryos during a IVF procedure, they often times "accidentally" have multiple births. Especially for women over forty, this poses significant health threats to the babies, who are often malnourished, and the women, whose bodies cannot handle the physical burden of twins or triplets.
Multiple births also pose significant economic issues, leaving the couple feeling "overwhelmed" and "unprepared."
As The Christian Post previously reported, a growing number of women undergoing IVF procedures abort their children as a result of multiple pregnancies. According to British newspaper the Telegraph, more than 100 babies were aborted in 2010 by IVF women pregnant with more than one child.
The British study suggests that women be implanted with fewer embryos so as to reduce the chances of multiple births, which could subsequently reduce the number of IVF-related abortions.
The study could also result in less spending with in-vitro procedures.
Liv Bente Romundstad of St Olav’s University Hospital in Trondheim, Norway, contends that there should be a restriction of two transferrable embryos per IVF procedure, regardless of the female’s age.
"To keep the number of stimulation cycles to a minimum is crucial from medical, psychological, ethical, and economic perspectives," Romundstad wrote in an editorial also published in The Lancet.
Romundstad argues that multiple pregnancies due to assisted conception result in whopping costs for the government's health care plans, averaging an annual $1 billion in the U.S. alone.
In the U.S., in-vitro fertilization has a success rate of 30 to 35 percent for women under 35 years old, in comparison to a much lower six to ten percent success rate for women over 40 years old.