In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a procedure that was introduced in 1978 to help infertile couples conceive. The infertility treatment achieves fertilization by combining sperm and eggs manually in a lab. Though the procedure is often successful, it remains controversial.
How In Vitro Fertilization Works
In vitro fertilization is a procedure in which a woman's egg cells are removed from her ovaries and fertilized outside her body. The fertilized eggs, or zygotes, are later implanted in the mother's uterus.
Prior to harvesting her eggs, the woman will go through two weeks of intense fertility drug and hormonal therapy, according to Georgia Reproductive Specialists. The harvesting can be done as an outpatient procedure while the patient is under local anesthesia.
Once the eggs have been fertilized and develop into pre-embryos, a special catheter is used to insert the pre-embryos through the vagina into the uterus during a process called embryo transfer.
The entire procedure can be done in as little as three weeks or, when combined with cryopreservation, can lead to the eggs being fertilized and implanted in the uterus years later.
IVF increases the chance of a successful pregnancy and it is often the only way a woman with fallopian tube problems can become pregnant. Overall, women who undergo in vitro fertilization have a 20-30 percent chance of a successful pregnancy with each treatment, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
Cryopreservation allows a doctor to harvest multiple eggs at one time, then freeze them or the embryos, until such time as the patient is ready to become pregnant. This process comes in handy because a woman may have enough eggs harvested at one time to undergo more than one IVF treatment.
Cryopreservation makes it possible for a surrogate mother to carry the patient's embryos to term in the event she is not medically capable of doing so herself. The patient can also donate the unused eggs to a woman who has none.
Problems With In Vitro Fertilization
The most common complication with IVF is the development of multiple births. This is predominantly due to the common practice of implanting more than one pre-embryo into the uterus. This is done to increase the chance of a successful pregnancy with only one treatment. Multiple births can lead to:
- Premature labor
- Neonatal morbidity
- Obstetrical complications
The MayoClinic lists other problems that may occur with the infertility treatment:
- Ovarian cancer
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Birth defects
Ethical Issues With IVF
Even though IVF has been a viable option for becoming pregnant for almost 30 years, certain ethical issues are still open to debate. Among these issues are:
- The artificial creation of life
- The creation of more embryos than is needed or can be carried to term healthily
- Contributions to the world's overpopulation
- High cost of IVF
- The ability to select embryos based on sex (which is now a Class A misdemeanor)
- The discarding of unused embryos
- Objections by the Roman Catholic Church
A woman who chooses to undergo IVF treatments may find herself on the receiving end of disapproval from family and friends, especially those who hold belief that life begins at conception. Since the eggs are fertilized, many believe that discarding them is killing a baby. While this should not be the deciding factor as to whether a woman should use IVF to get pregnant, it is something she should consider.
To counter some of the ethical issues with in vitro fertilization, Amnon Goldworth, PhD, provides reasons why IVF is not harmful to the couple, society, or the pre-embryo in The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization. Goldworth explores very touchy subjects that include:
- The difference between an embryo and a person
- Increased risk of multiples
- Increased risk of spina bifida and birth defects
- Financial burden on society due to the cost of supporting individuals harmed by IVF
In vitro fertilization may be the answer to infertility that many couples desire, but it isn't a procedure to take lightly. It is important to explore the issues before making any decisions about this treatment approach.