The reproduction industry

By  Bernard Daly, Catholic Register Special
  • September 28, 2007
{mosimage}Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction is Changing Men, Women and the World, by Liza Mundy (Alfred A Knopf, hardcover, 406 pages. $34.95).

This book tells gripping stories about virtually unregulated U.S. industries assisting human reproduction. It challenges pro-lifers to find new language for abiding concerns in rapidly changing contexts. It gives insight into probable future assaults on Canadian law.

To help infertile couples and regulate research, Canada’s 2004 law forbids cloning people or stem cells, growing human embryos for research, buying or selling embryos, sperm, eggs or other human reproductive material, selecting a child’s sex, making human DNA changes that pass between generations and creating people having animal DNA. It allows surrogate mothers, donating sperm, eggs and other reproductive material, using sperm, eggs and embryos to assist conception and limited use of embryos and stem cells in research.

{sa 1400044286}Liza Mundy, an award-winning Washington Post journalist, tells intimate stories of women and men personally affected by techniques that are business as usual south of our border. She is almost unreservedly pro-choice, but concedes “it also seems safe to say that in the United States, some excesses of the field could and should be reined in.” Overall, her book exposes rather than promotes.

She sees U.S. fertility medicine as the “wild west.” The American Fertility Association says, “We don’t want the government touching, monitoring, getting involved with our eggs, our sperm, our embryos.”

“Egg-donation agencies,” she writes, “are a sort of cross between a real estate brokerage and a dating service. Yet unlike real estate agents, egg brokers do not have to take written exams or obtain certificates.... In vitro fertilization is a high-paying medical specialty, one in which doctors can invoke ‛reproductive liberty’ to justify performing any procedure a patient wants and can pay for, and to make a lot of money standing on this ideological high ground.”

One U.S. company specializes in shipping frozen sperm to a lab in Bucharest, Romania, where it is thawed to fertilize eggs from a Romanian donor. The embryos are frozen and shipped back to the United States, thawed and transferred into a prospective American mother.

At the 2005 convention in Montreal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “an array of 21st-century conception technology was on display, rivalling anything unveiled by the military-industrial complex.”

Mundy has profound moments. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) involves inserting a single sperm into an egg. Watching “not just the creation, but the somewhat ad hoc selection of human life,” Mundy thought the embryologist inserting the sperm “brought to his task all the emotion of a car mechanic changing a spark plug.”

She documents much more gay men parenting through surrogacy for between $100,000 and $150,000; the process of selective reduction to leave twins or triplets after multiple embryos are inserted; feminists torn between defending choice and abhorring what is chosen; “different” IVF children — more likely to be premature, suffer birth defects and be confused about who parented them.

Yet, with millions of assisted births and hundreds of thousands of stored frozen embryos, Mundy tries in the end to be positive: “Most of all, what reproductive science has done, I think, is remind us that having children and loving children — having and being a family — is an unstoppable urge.”

(Daly is a publisher emeritus of The Catholic Register.)

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