Sunday 14 August 2011

New York Times article reveals the cruel reality of IVF

I'm grateful to Daniel Blackman, a member of SPUC HQ's research team, for the following profound reflection on an article which appeared last week in The New York Times magazine The Two Minus-One Pregnancy and on IVF*, a topic on which I have frequently written:
"As Jenny lay on the obstetrician’s examination table, she was grateful that the ultrasound tech had turned off the overhead screen. She didn’t want to see the two shadows floating inside her. Since making her decision, she had tried hard not to think about them, though she could often think of little else. She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment — and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny’s abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt."
With these words New York Times journalist, Ruth Padawer, opens her article on what might be described as yet another low within the already dark world of the abortion industry. It's an article about multiple pregnancy "reduction", or, in plain English, a pregnant mother who has twins or triplets who chooses to have one or more of her children killed so that only one or two remain. This is a phenomenon not, as this article shows, confined to the kind of totalitarian practices associated with China, it's happening in America.

It's a phenomenon which is a consequence of the destructive force of reproductive technology without a rational ethical foundation; and it's becoming more prevalent as a result of the multi-million dollar IVF industry which treats human embryos as commercial stock.

Padawer reports that between about 5 to 20 percent of pregnancies from fertility treatment turn out to be twins (or higher, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine), and half of babies conceived through IVF are part of a multiple pregnancy. This occurs because several embryos are placed inside the woman’s womb, because most if not all of the embryos will not implant in the womb and will die. This process can be repeated several times over. What is even more grotesque is the fact that the article suggests that it's not the fact that a woman pregnant with three or four babies wants a "reduction" which provides an ethical dilemma;  the writer and the doctors involved appear to deem such a "reduction" acceptable. According to the writer, the ethical dilemma is whether pregnancy "reduction" is morally acceptable in the case of a mother carrying twins:
What is it about terminating half a twin pregnancy that seems more controversial than reducing triplets to twins or aborting a single fetus? After all, the math's the same either way: one fewer fetus. Perhaps it’s because twin reduction (unlike abortion) involves selecting one fetus over another, when either one is equally wanted. Perhaps it’s our culture’s idealized notion of twins as lifelong soul mates, two halves of one whole. Or perhaps it’s because the desire for more choices conflicts with our discomfort about meddling with ever more aspects of reproduction.
According to the article, Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York, one of the largest providers of pregnancy "reduction", reported that by 1997, 15 percent of "reductions" were "reduced" to a single child. Last year, by comparison, 61 of the centre’s 101 "reductions" were to a single child, and 38 of those pregnancies started as twins. Dr. Mark Evans, an obstetrician and geneticist, was among the first to ‘reduce a pregnancy’, a euphemism for taking unborn twins and deciding which one will be killed. Evans decided that the "industry", as Padawer rightly and perhaps unwittingly describes it, needed guidelines, and in 1988, he and an ethicist at the National Institutes of Health issued such guidelines.

In 2004 Evans announced in a major obstetrics journal that he now endorsed twin "reductions". More women in their 40s and 50s were becoming pregnant (often from donor eggs) and they were pushing for two-to-one "reductions" for social reasons. These women didn’t want to be in their 60s worrying about parenting teenagers. Evans noted that many of the women were in second marriages, and while they wanted to create a child with their new spouse, they did not want two children, especially if they had children from a previous marriage. Others had deferred child-rearing for careers or education, or were single women tired of waiting for the right partner.

Evans had become convinced that everyone carrying twins, through reproductive technology or not, should at least know that "reduction" was an option. “Ethics,” he said, “evolve with technology.”

What we read in this article is a catalogue of characteristics that neatly sum up the culture of death, a culture that eliminates the unwanted, the inconvenient, the burdensome to one’s own life. Padawer quotes Sheena Iyengar, a social psychologist at Columbia Business School:
The story upon which the American dream depends is the story of limitless choice. This narrative promises so much: freedom, happiness, success. It lays the world at your feet and says you can have anything, everything...we are in the midst of a choice revolution right now, where we’re trying to figure out where the ethical boundaries should be.
"Choice" is a well-worn and oft-used slogan of pro-abortion advocates, using "choice" whilst trying to detach that choice from the reality of what that choice which entails: the extermination of an unborn child. This choice extends to scientists playing God with human life by IVF methods, couples and single women choosing to abort a child if that child happens to be one too many, and the choice to eliminate a child with Down’s Syndrome. Padawer notes that
"pregnancies are wanted, but not when they entail unwanted complications — complications for the parents as much as the with reducing two healthy fetuses to one, the underlying premise is the same: this is not what I want for my life."
The article is littered with examples of women who became pregnant naturally or via IVF treatment, and found themselves pregnant with twins. Below are just two examples of mothers who signed up to the "choice revolution":
One fetus was male, the other female, and the woman eliminated the male because she already had a son. "Something about that whole situation just seemed unethical to me," the commentator continued. "I just couldn’t sleep at night knowing that I terminated my daughter’s perfectly healthy twin brother."
Another example offered is that of two lesbian 45 year olds together for 15 years, who decide to "get serious" about having children. Both went through IVF, used donor eggs, and several cycles of IVF treatment. Eventually they both fell pregnant with twins, one decided to "reduce" her pregnancy to one child, and then her lesbian partner miscarried both twins.
"I still wonder, Did we choose the right one? — even though I wasn’t the one who chose. That idea, that one’s gone and one’s here, it’s almost like playing God. I mean, who are we to choose? Even as it was happening, I wondered what the future would have been if the doctor had put the needle into the other one."
The situations described in this article, and the attitude towards human lives of the writer and all those involved, clearly demonstrate the inherently unethical nature of IVF and of the IVF industry.

British Department of Health abortion statistics 2010 reveal that last year there were 85 abortions which involved selective terminations. In 51 cases, twins were "reduced" to one baby.

The New York Times article does not give consideration to the twin child who is allowed to live, and the effect that the abortion can have on the survivor. After all, that person has lost a brother or sister with whom they shared a mother and womb. One such example close to home is that of Margaret Cuthill who was pregnant with twins without realising it. Margaret went for her an abortion and thought that was the end of it. However, on her return to the abortion facility for a post-abortion check-up, she was informed, following an ultrasound, that she was carrying a second child. This time she refused an abortion, and her daughter is now a young woman in her twenties and part of the pro-life movement in the UK. Margaret works full-time as a post-abortion counsellor for ARCH.

Another example is that of Sarah Smith, who survived an abortion attempt but her twin brother did not. Organisations such as Wombtwin have been founded in recent years to provide friendship and support for twins who lost a twin during pregnancy or birth. There can often be issues of misplaced guilt and culpability, and loss and mourning experienced by the twin who survived, or was not aborted.

*A compassionate, realistic alternative to IVF to be found in Naprotechnology which has grown to become a comprehensive branch of women’s health medicine, which respects both the natural fertility cycle and the sanctity of human life.

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