Many Americans struggle with infertility and depend on the latest fertility technology for treatment. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is one of the most common methods that couples resort to for fertility assistance.
Controversial issues surrounding IVF are evident, and many people question whether this form of technology is morally appropriate.1
Some individuals have raised the question if it is morally acceptable to dispose of remnants of frozen embryos after a female has become pregnant, and her desire to not want to bear any more children, for example. Others feel it is a fundamental right of the couple to decide.
But while there are many pros and cons that surround the use of IVF technology for treatment, couples typically will do whatever it takes to rectify their infertility issues.
Currently, there is no federal government funding for IVF procedures, and few if any insurance plans that touch the procedure; thus couples have to bear the entire expense for treatment, which is substantial.
The IVF process involves sperm that is manually implanted into an egg cell and placed in a pertri dish. This process is performed in a fertility lab by a fertility specialist. Viable embryos are then implanted into the mother’s uterus.
The most cost effective treatment for some couples involves fertilizing all of the eggs that are retrieved. If an individual does not have successful results with implantation a second round of embryos in storage can be implanted without additional fees.1
Typically, no more than three embryos are implanted in the woman’s uterus.1 The outcome from this process for some couples is multiple pregnancies.
Embryos are sometimes frozen in storage for later use for couples who are not successful with their first attempt with implantation. They can be kept in storage for a maximum of five years. Some couples end up having numerous embryos in storage that they do not plan to use.1
For many, having more embryos in storage than one needs raises the moral concern about what happens to the embryos. Many people question the morality behind couples who dispose of their frozen embryos after infertility treatments.
Some individuals feel that every embryo created has a right to life and should not be disposed. Others believe life begins later in pregnancy rather than at conception and therefore feel there is nothing wrong with deciding to dispose of their frozen embryos.1
Donations & Multiple Births
Couples may decide to donate their embryos, keep their embryos in storage forever, or even use them in experimental studies.1
Donation of embryos would spare the life of the frozen embryos and give other infertile couples a chance at childbearing. Some couples may feel that the donation process could be emotionally challenging.
Leaving embryos in storage indefinitely prolongs a couple for making a decision.
According to Rae, terminating embryos outside the body would appear to be morally equal to abortion, as would donating embryos for research and experimentation which leads to obliteration. Rae also states that all embryos created in labs are worthy of a chance in life either by the couple or another infertile couple.1
Doctors and nurses understand the importance of providing education and time for couples to make a decision about the number of embryos they desire for implantation.2 Many feel morally obligated to implant all of their embryos created for implantation.
Couples who experience multiple births from implantation can increase their chances of experiencing complications. Doctors perform an evaluation of the mother’s health and occasionally termination of several embryos is recommended for their safety and well-being.1
Multiple births increase the risk for maternal hypertension, preeclampsia, hemorrhage, cesarean section, and death.2 Sometimes termination is done for the sake of convenience when couples are faced with more children than they can raise.1
Many individuals may wish to help others by donating their embryos to couples experiencing infertility.
Pros & Cons of IVF
In vitro fertilization gives courage to infertile individuals who want to have a family. This procedure provides hope for couples even in their mid 30’s to late 40’s who are experiencing fertility issues.
Occasionally, individuals who undergo the IVF procedure may face an unsuccessful experience and end up with no viable embryos. IVF is expensive, and couples usually pay out of pocket for treatments.
The procedure can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for couples who struggle to pay for the procedure, lab fees, and medications. Individuals may also experience physical stress from using fertility medications and from several cycles of treatment.2
To achieve a comparable overall live birth rate, women using single embryo transfers may need to undergo two IVF cycles instead of one, doubling their cost of treatment.2
Multiple pregnancies are also a major concern for those who wish to have one healthy child. Multiple births also raises health risks such as cognitive and physical disabilities and infants may require intensive care.2
The financial expense for IVF treatment can cause many couples to feel hopeless. The IVF procedure can cost as much as $15,000.2
People who decide to pursue fertility treatments sometime deplete their savings, 401k accounts, and even sell their homes in order to pay for treatments. The financial strain can cause many to feel depressed and disheartened.
While couples face higher costs from multiple single-embryo IVF cycles, society bears higher costs from multiple-embryo cycles.2
Most insurance companies do not support payments for fertility treatments. Also, the federal government does not endorse funding for IVF procedures. Consideration of equity can justify funding for IVF services. Infertility can be a disability that warrants medical care, in fact, as other disabilities do.2
In vitro fertilization is a choice that many infertile couples turn to for assistance.
The ethical issues that surround IVF contribute to questions that focus on whether the procedure is morally acceptable.
Many individuals may feel that it is not appropriate to dispose of embryos after a couple experiences success with their first procedure.
While others believe that it is in their best interest to keep the procedure as cost effective as possible and to maximize the possibilities of a successful implantation, embryos are frozen in storage to be used later if their first attempt fails.1
Despite the controversies surrounding IVF, couples have an inherent right to express their values and beliefs; and more importantly, decide how their embryos are treated.
References for this article can be accessed here.
SanChitta Chambers is Support Services Team Leader for Surgery, Community Hospital North, Indianapolis.