Assisted Reproductive Technologies
Assisted reproduction is now a $3 billion dollar a year industry in the United States; tens of thousands of Americans pursue fertility treatments each year. Assisted reproductive technologies (also called ARTs) include a range of fertility treatments, in vitro fertilization (IVF), and surrogacy. ARTs, for those who can afford them, have increased the ability of heterosexual couples, same sex couples, single men and single women to become biological parents. The same technologies, however, raise critical ethical and safety issues. Nearly every industrialized country has adopted regulations to protect fertility patients and their children, and to prevent unacceptable practices. In contrast, the United States relies almost entirely on voluntary guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the fertility industry's professional organization. Unfortunately, these guidelines are not binding and are routinely flouted. Opponents of reproductive justice would like to regulate these technologies in ways that would drastically limit reproductive freedom. It is critical for reproductive justice, health and rights advocates to step forward to develop a framework for regulation that promotes social justice and protects reproductive freedom.
There is very little data on the long-term health and safety risks for women and for children born through IVF. The drugs used in IVF carry several known health risks for women, and because they are not approved by the FDA for multiple egg extraction - they are used “off-label”- there is little data being collected on the long term effects of having used these hormones. The voluntary guidelines that limit the number of embryos that should be safely implanted into a woman are routinely violated; the most public case, of course, is Nadya Suleman dubbed “Octomom.” This practice puts both the mother and child/children at risk.
A global marketplace:
In the United States there is a high-priced market for the eggs of beautiful, talented, intelligent young women. College campus newspapers are filled with ads offering up to $100,000 for premium eggs. Internationally, “reproductive tourism” is a booming business as people travel to India or economically challenged European countries to purchase eggs, hire surrogates, or access low-priced fertility treatments.
Sex selection and designer babies:
ARTs, in particular pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), can be used to select the sex of a child, either for male preference or simply to choose which sex a parent prefers. As more and more genetic tests are developed, at least one fertility clinics has offered testing for hair and skin color, and others offer a range of tests to select or de-select perceived favorable or unfavorable traits of children. These same technologies could one day be the gateway to human cloning.
With so many important issues at stake, many scholars, policy makers, and advocates join with the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research in calling for action to protect women’s health and well-being and to remedy the inadequate oversight of the fertility industry.