Over the past few decades, medical improvements have made parenthood possible for millions of couples suffering from infertility. One of the main technological breakthroughs is in-vitro fertilization, which unites the sperm and egg in a test tube before implanting the embryo in the mother’s womb. The technology, however, comes at a high price. The procedure itself is expensive, but, more importantly, it can greatly increase the chance of seeing birth complications.
These complications are mainly caused by the implantation of multiple embryos at once, a technique used to increase the rate of success of the procedure—but one that also increases the chance of twins, triplets, or even octuplets. This in turn leads to premature births that need intensive neonatal medical attention. Given this, we believe that fertility clinics and physicians have a moral obligation to avoid implanting multiple embryos.
Caring for the premature births of IVF newborns is also estimated to cost the U.S. healthcare system $1 billion each year. Additionally, premature babies are put at a higher risk of suffering from developmental problems such as mental illnesses, learning disabilities, and hearing impairments. These children often require increased health care for the rest of their lives.
Both fertility clinics and government health officials are aware of the dangers of multiple embryo implantations. The risks, however, are lost on parents who are desperate to start a family and ignored by physicians who want to keep their success rates high. Parents tend to want to implant multiple embryos in order to increase the chance of pregnancy and avoid paying a second time for the procedure.
Given these perverse incentives, it is extremely important that parents are made aware of the risks they may be running and the possible dangers they are exposing their future child to. Doctors have a responsibility to discuss and explain these issues while recommending that parents seriously consider alternative solutions that do not involve implanting multiple embryos.
A child’s right to be born healthy should trump a parent’s desire to ensure that a child is born. Parents and doctors need to acknowledge this right, especially when different solutions, such as adoption, may be reached.
In the end, however, this debate brings up complicated questions concerning the ownership of one’s body that are difficult to address. For this reason, we believe that parents should be legally allowed to pursue multiple embryo IVF, but that doctors should strongly advise against it. We encourage thoughtful consideration of these questions given the complexities of the issue. For now, we hope that fertility clinics will work more concertedly to decrease the number of multiple embryo implantations.