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Monday, October 11, 2010

A Nobel for IVF, But Not Much Has Changed

Apologies for the long silence. It's very unlike me... A few of you have written me asking if everything's ok. I can't tell you how touched I was to hear that I was missed. Virtual hugs to all.

So, the other day, when the big news broke that Dr. Edwards was receiving a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for developing IVF, I thought it will be the perfect topic to discuss. Surely many of you had heard the news and were probably jumping for joy over this long overdue acknowledgment -- or like Julia at A Little Pregnant, you created a unique artwork to express your excitement; really, how can you top that?

But then, I decided to wait things out and see what the comments were going to be on the news sites. It seems that most Nobel prizes never go without some controversy. Someone somewhere just isn't going to be happy about it. So I sat there by my computer watching the comments pouring in. It was no surprise of course that right out the gate, the comments were negative and critical. Some blamed IVF for over-populating of our already over-populated planet (What about the countless unwanted pregnancies/babies?); others suggested that it went against "God's design" (Then when you get cancer please don't seek out medical treatments -- like stem cells, because it seems to me that "God" wanted you to die, plus we're over-populated anyway); while many went straight for the "why don't you just adopt" route (Really? I'd never considered that option. Thank you for enlightening me). The Vatican of course was apparently "perplexed" by the award, not that I expected any other reaction from them.

Eventually, voices of reason and sanity trickled in from people who were in one way or another affected by IVF. Considering there are about 4 millions babies out there as a direct result of A.R.T., I'd say the comments boxes should have been flooded with congratulations and thanks.

While I pondered how to tackle this news and the reactions that ensued, I started reading opinion pieces from respected writers and bloggers. I think this Op-Ed piece by Robin Marantz Henig (author of "Pandora's Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution") exemplifies the overall perception of where our society stands 32 years after the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was conceived. The piece declares (and it's not the only one) that we have come a long way and that "our attitude toward Dr. Edwards's research has completely changed: I.V.F. is now used so often it is practically routine." (She does point out that some skeptics are still out there, but that the numbers are marginal.)

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that we've come along far enough. While I can't imagine anyone still believes that IVF babies will come out with genetic defects (or some kind of monsters), as long as people and even the press continue to callously use "test-tube babies" to describe the progenies created via ART, I think it's pretty clear that the stigma persists. (Plus not a single test-tube was ever used. Petri dishes sure, but no test tubes like in your high school chemistry class.) That terminology is incredibly dated and yet thrown around today to categorize our kids -- "Oh, yes, so-and-so also has a test-tube baby. You should meet her" -- as though our kids are somehow abnormal; part of some grand experiment.

Even if I manage to move beyond this hair-raising terminology, I cannot get past the comments suggesting that we don't deserve to have the family we want. Whether it's the "playing God" comments, the "just adopt" comments or "we're already over-populated" comments, they all point to one thing: If you're infertile, you should not have kids. And if you want kids, then adopt. But only if you're of a certain age, married and not gay. Our society, as progressive as we believe it is, still establishes the boundaries of what it deems to be right and wrong according to some archaic set of believes that predate our abilities of rational thought and tangible scientific progress.

Awarding a Nobel Prize is a wonderful step in the right direction, but the fact that it took them more than three decades to grant this acknowledgement (and thus, robbing Dr. Steptoe who passed in 1988 from being celebrated) is nothing to boast about. The Nobel committee claims that they need proof of the legitimacy of the scientific discovery before awarding a prize. Establishing certain benchmarks is certainly necessary before honoring someone with a coveted prize. But 30 years is not an acceptable measure in this case since the committee in no time honored scientists like Fritz Haber, Antonion Moniz, Johannes Fibiger*all of whom were proven wrong shortly after their prizes were handed out.

Winning a Nobel Prize for pioneering modern day ART has allowed for the science that is for many of us our only hope to receive front-page placement in the news, but it isn't doing much to shed light on the personal heart breaking journeys that too many of us have taken/are taking.

Where do you stand on this matter?

* Thank you Mel at Stirrup Queens for pointing those out to us.

4 comments:

Amber said...

Glad to see you posting again. You were missed!

Marci said...

I've been fortunate in that my journey has been accepted by people who know me, and most people have been genuinely supportive and curious (in a nice way), so I guess it's lucky that I'm 30 years after the fact so I can walk a well-trodden path and not be heralded as some freak who can't accept, "G-d's plan."

Funny how no one ever considers that scientific discovery and taking charge of our fertility could be part of G-d's plan. Good nutrition that contributes to living longer is good, but good reproductive science is bad. Lets go back to drinking unpasteurized milk and dying at 40 while we're at it.

Calmly Chaotic said...

While I agree that this recent news item won't necessarily shed direct light on the suffering involved in this community of fertility challenged individuals, I do feel that anything that brings infertility to the media is good. Sort of like the saying.. there's no such thing as bad press.. In this case at least it is getting the issue of IVF out there for discussion. I realize the discussions aren't all favorable but at least it is out there.

Secret Sloper said...

Ten years ago, I never would have imagined that I would celebrate this award the way I have. Even while I hope that we don't need to pursue IVF for a multitude of reasons, I am so happy that this technology exists to help millions of people around the world. I think he's the *perfect* recipient of the Nobel prize: didn't Nobel establish the award because of remorse over his involvement in the creation of dynamite? And now Dr. Edwards is rewarded for helping couples to create life!

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