Elective IVF and Gender Selection: A Step Too Far

Flipping through the entertainment news in a moment of downtime this evening, I stumbled upon a story that had my infertility ire up before I was even finished.

 “Joe Francis’ Girlfriend Abbey Wilson Gives Birth to Twin Baby Girls!”

(Joe Francis, for those that don’t know, is the “Girls Gone Wild” guy.)

At this point you may be wondering why I even clicked on this article to begin with…I know I still am.  I think the answer is because at one time I was pregnant with twins, and though I lost them I was told that in all likelihood they were girls.  Consequently, if I see an article about twins, especially girl twins, I usually click on it. If you would like to take a wee gander yourself, I have linked the article here.

To be as forthcoming as possible, I honestly don’t know anything about this gentleman or his girlfriend.  I am not famous and I have never been a Girl Gone Wild.  I haven’t even been to Florida.  I freely admit that I do not personally care for his franchise or what he professionally represents, but he could be a heck of a nice guy for all I know.  It was the part in the article where the new mother is quoted, that hit me with a mega dose of WTF:

 “We both wanted girls and we wanted them to be healthy and free of genetic diseases so we chose to do IVF.”

What?  Whhaaatttt?  What in the cheese and crackers is happening here?  As someone who has traveled this road a time or two or four, I have some strong opinions.  And oh so many questions.  Firstly, why would someone subject themselves to IVF if they could become pregnant naturally?  It’s an altogether unpleasant experience, I assure you.  All kinds of needles in all kinds of places filled with all kinds of hormones designed to make you all kinds of categorically crazy.  For this privilege I paid $25,000.00.  A woman typically ovulates one egg per month-this process is designed to make you ovulate a whole bunch, like 30. Possibly less if you do not respond well, maybe considerably more if you hyperstimulate and produce follicles until your ovaries feel like they are going to burst.  If you are UNABLE to have children naturally, IVF is a godsend.  Every needle stuck in my stomach and each horrifying progesterone injection in the bum cheek was worth it because it gave me my son.  If not for IVF, I would not have the light of my life and I would not be a mother.  I am absolutely in favor of IVF.  I am also absolutely pissed off when someone uses it to make designer babies when they are capable of reproducing without it.

Secondly, it is wrong to choose the gender of your children. True, that is only my opinion, but I feel so strongly about it I will state it as fact.  It is legal, but that doesn’t make it ethical.  Many fertility clinics do not provide this service; others will enthusiastically promote it.  My husband and I were offered the option of doing Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, or PGD, to determine gender and rule out any questionably genetically imperfect embryos at one of the clinics where we had a consult. The only thing I could think of in response at the time was, Can we leave one damn thing to chance?  We had a zero percent shot of getting pregnant naturally, and had recently found out that this time around, we couldn’t even use my eggs.  In a reality where my future children will be conceived in a petri dish by injecting my husband’s sperm into another woman’s egg, I truly feel like I am at capacity regarding the level of scientific interference involved in my family planning.  The hubs and I aren’t going through all this to produce genetically cherry-picked super babies.  We are going through all this because more than anything else we have ever loved, we love our son.  We love being parents.  We want more children, and we want our little guy to have siblings.  When those are the goals, things like gender and impeccable health just really don’t matter that much.

Thirdly, PGD is available because for some couples, it is an invaluable life or death test. There are some serious genetic conditions that only occur in a specific gender.  Some couples know ahead of time that one or both partners carry a gene that, if passed on, would prove fatal to the infant.  These are necessary and justifiable uses of gender and genetic testing, and that is the reason the technology exists in the first place.   Some couples use PGD for “family balancing.”  In other words, they may have naturally conceived three sons but they really want that daughter.  For the right price, certain fertility clinics can make that happen.  It should not be offered or available to those of us who are simply infertile but do not have the additional burden of potentially passing along a scary genetic condition.  It is an insult to those who really need it.  Sort of like doing IVF when you don’t need that, either.

I suppose it’s possible that Abbey Wilson is a carrier for a genetic condition she doesn’t want to pass on.  It would be very unfair of me not to at least entertain that idea.  Based on her quote in the article, it doesn’t seem likely.  What does seem likely is that she and Girls Gone Wild Guy really wanted daughters, and they wanted them to be healthy. The truth is, I can’t blame them for wanting healthy children.  That would be crazy; every parent wants their child to be healthy.  I can’t even blame them for leaning towards one gender over another in preference.  Who hasn’t daydreamed during pregnancy about having that little girl/boy they always pictured when they envisioned themselves as a parent?  What I can blame people for is taking those wishes too far and crossing into the dangerous territory of eugenics.  

Does anyone remember the movie Gattaca?  It’s a movie about genetic engineering, and what the results look like a few decades after the concept was first implemented.  When I read this article tonight on Yahoo, I thought about this movie.  It gave me the heebie jeebies.  Science fiction movies set in the future are supposed to look incredibly cheesy when they actually reach that date.  They are not supposed to hold up and accurately resemble the society they portrayed twenty years before.

What do you think?  Were IVF and PGD used inappropriately in this circumstance?  Did it irritate you the way it irritated me?  I’m looking forward to reading/responding to the comments!

P.S.  This may be my favorite part of the article: “I believe people will finally understand my love, respect, and admiration for women.  I love girls.” — Joe Francis

I hope so too, Mr. Francis.  I have a feeling the way you make a living is going to affect you profoundly once you start raising daughters.  Becoming a parent has a way of doing that to you.

www.borrowedgenes.com

P.P.S. The issue of how far is too far when it comes to assisted reproduction will be explored on CNN this Sunday night, October 16, on This is Life With Lisa Ling: The Genius Experiment.  Yours truly will be featured with my husband and son during the last ten minutes of the show, hopefully sounding reasonably articulate and educated about the topic.

4 thoughts on “Elective IVF and Gender Selection: A Step Too Far

  1. I’m sorry but I just read this article on TMZ (yes, I just read TMZ lol) and it made me ill. I don’t know why who in their right mind would electively go through IVF & then talk about it to the public. Clearly they have no idea what it is like to be infertile & it is insulting. Maybe they felt the need to tell the world how and why they are pregnant with twins (my sis had twins and everyone always asked her if she did it naturally, which she did and she always found it to be an invasive question – which it is) But honestly I wish they would just keep their mouths shut. Ha!

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  2. I understand how you feel. It is a bit sick to use IVF for those purposes. We are doing the PGD testing with our donor eggs/ my husband’s sperm. The reason we are doing this is to increase my chances of pregnancy and to make sure there are no abnormalities. We don’t care about the sex or want to know. From the very beginning of my whole IVF journey, I was given really good odds it would work. All of my blood work was great. My doc was worried about hyper stimulation. But as we worked through it and after my second cancelation it became clear those numbers meant nothing. PGD gives me an 80% chance of becoming pregnant. My donor could easily produce 10 embryos. It is likely that not all of those would work. PGD testing will tell us which are most likely to work. We feel like we already have so much working against us that it would be ice to have something work for us for a change.

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