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Posts Tagged ‘IVF’

UPDATE 12/5/11: The Gingrich Campaign responded. I’m not entirely sold on the response. Check it out.

News today that presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich believes that life begins at implantation does not come as a great surprise. Other pro-life denizens of Capitol Hill, such as Senators Connie Mack and Orin Hatch have also stated that the embryo is not human until it’s in the womb.

Having recently covered this topic on when a human life begins, I’d like to probe deeper into the thoughts of Mr. Gingrich and extend to him an invitation to a cordial dialogue on this issue.

A telling remark made by Mr. Gingrich sheds light on whence this issue arises:

“I think that if you take a position when a woman has fertilized egg and that’s been successfully implanted that now you’re dealing with life,” he added. “Because otherwise you’re going to open up an extraordinary range of very difficult questions.”

That last line is the key. Wittingly or unwittingly, the Speaker is guilty of the same error as our pro-choice opponents. He is defining away the human identity and status of the embryo in order to avoid wrestling with difficult questions of responsibility toward members of our species in their earliest and most vulnerable stage of existence.

Yes, by acknowledging the human identity and status of the pre-implantation embryo we find ourselves immersed in a world of searing questions that directly challenge our infatuation with the unchecked exercise of raw political power, of personal predilection without accountability.

We call into question the use of hormonal birth control measures, which carry the risk of preventing implantation.

We call into question the use of chemical abortifacients such as Ella that are marketed as contraceptives precisely because of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s change of the terms conception and pregnancy to be synonymous with implantation.

We call into question the use of IUD’s, which prevent implantation.

We call into question the tearing apart of embryonic humans for medical experimentation.

We call into question the inhumanity of freezing hundreds of thousands of embryonic humans in liquid nitrogen, treating them as property and not as persons.

One of the many impressive qualities of Mr. Gingrich is that he brings his Ph.D. in history to the table when he debates and puts forth a vision of this nation’s future. It is specifically to the latter point made that he must turn his attention, that of treating pre-implantation embryonic humans as mere property (especially to avoid the difficult questions that acknowledging their humanity presents).

We have been down this road before.

Because our Founders failed to root out slavery from the outset, the nation was riven for over eighty years by the Faustian bargain made in the beginning. The malevolence came to its full-flower with the Dred Scott decision, which entirely stripped African Americans of their personhood identity. What to do with freed slaves was a burning issue in its day. How would they, or could they integrate into the broader society as free persons?

We suffered that evil as a people for as long as that evil was sufferable. In the end, the civil war that everyone feared came anyway, and it laid waste the nation, North and South, with over 600,000 men dead, and millions grievously wounded.

The same is happening today, with the exception that the civil war we are in has been, with rare exception, a bloodless war. However, it has poisoned our body politic, and brought this nation to its knees politically. The one who would be President of the United States cannot seek refuge from the political storm by engaging in deft verbal engineering. It didn’t work with slavery and personhood, and it won’t work here either.

Mr. Gingrich has given voice to a very consequential idea, that a broad spectrum of difficult questions might have to be answered if we deal in the truth of science, and in the truth of human anthropology witnessed to, not only by the Declaration of Independence, but by his newly-adopted Catholic faith. It will mean dealing with the rampant narcissism and hedonism that have swamped the nation he would lead.

So consequential is this idea, that it has profound implications for conscience protections for healthcare professionals as well as the rights of the Catholic Church and its related agencies to refuse mandatory coverage of contraception, most of which is abortifacient in nature, though not under Mr. Gingrich’s nomenclatural accommodation.

It would mean declaring that sex and reproduction have consequences, and that embryonic human beings have moral claims on us as individuals, and as a nation. Such moral claims would mean people reassessing their recreational use of sex, and their utilitarian use of in vitro fertilization.

These are serious problems in the life of this nation, and as the Speaker knows all too well from our experience of slavery, we won’t solve them by attempting to define the victims away.

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Late to this story:

The New York Times published a story last weekend about the practice of what is euphemistically known as ‘reducing’ a pregnancy. It’s the barbaric practice of killing one or more babies in a multiple-birth pregnancy, usually through lethal injection, and leaving the dead sibling(s) with the living until birth.

The practice was initially engaged during IVF when four or more embryos implanted and a certain number were culled in order to produce more robust survivors with the least complications for the mother. As with all depravity, there are no absolute limits, just a series of yellow lights. We now have a debate about reducing pregnancies of twins to what are called ‘singletons’. Listen to one mother in the article and her rationale:

If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner – in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me – and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.

What we glimpse here is the underlying malignancy of IVF, and the reason why we ought not allow our sympathy for the childless to cloud our reason and judgement.

Regina and I both lived the bitter and sorrowful disappointment of not being able to conceive for over four LONG years. We went into our marriage agreeing that, come what may, we would abide the teaching of the Church. We would not do IVF, nor would I see my wife juiced up with ghastly levels of cancer-inducing hormones, all in the name of having a biological keeper.

It was after we stopped trying and agreed to proceed to adoption that our first child was conceived.

That said, the grotesqueness that the desperate swallow in the pursuit of biological progeny is evident in this article. The euphemistic reductions are the most noticeable tip of the iceberg.

In the process of IVF, several eggs are harvested after pumping women full of hormones to stimulate hyper-ovulation. The consent to this by any husband ranges between ignorance to unspeakable selfishness.

Then, the husband is handed a specimen cup and shown a room where he must manually produce a semen sample. At this point, the procreative work is no longer that of husband and wife, but rather that of a team of lab technicians who will facilitate the union of egg and sperm. Husband and wife are relegated to the sidelines as mere observers.

Once the clutch of eggs is fertilized, the embryos are sorted and graded according to ‘viability’. At this point, a cell may be taken from the embryo to test for genetic and potential developmental anomalies. The poorer candidates are thus tossed away, the best implanted, and the rest frozen at -320 degrees F in liquid nitrogen. This process is abortion on steroids.

Thus, the entire process of IVF treats the child as an accessory in the lives of he parents, with little to no regard for that child’s weaker siblings who are simply thrown away, or immersed in liquid nitrogen indefinitely, a process that kills half of all who are frozen. No amount of desperation can ever justify this hideous mockery of God’s wise design. The experience that Regina and I had shows the value of respecting and obeying the Church as a matter of habit, so that when the storms hit, one has a safe refuge.

People may ridicule the Church and the teaching handed down by our celibate bishops, but as this article demonstrates, perhaps it takes a celibate to help the rest of us weather the storms.

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My article in today’s HeadlineBistro.

Yahoo News recently carried a story that reports from the proceedings of the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Stockholm, where a recent study was discussed linking in vitro fertilization (IVF) with an increased incidence in Down Syndrome.

The language in the story is a mess, and care must be taken to vet the verbal engineering contained therein so that the true moral and bioethical implications may be brought into sharp relief. The story may be read here.

First, a summation of the science involved. Investigators analyzed the DNA strands (chromosomes) produced by the divisions of human eggs and counted the chromosome numbers using a new technique (Array Comparative Genomic Hybridisation.) that is highly sensitive to not only differences in chromosome numbers, but also changes in the size and composition of the chromosomes.

Now, just a tiny bit of biology before the analysis.

Recall that all of the instructions for making a human body are contained within the DNA, and a normal human has 46 DNA chromosomes. There are 23 pairs of these chromosomes. One member of each pair comes from the sperm cell and one member of each pair from the egg cell. In persons with Down syndrome, there is an extra copy of the twenty-first chromosome. For this reason, we describe the three copies of chromosome #21 as “Trisomy 21.”

During the development of the egg, or ovum, the chromosomes are replicated, so that there is twice the normal number. It isn’t important to get into all of the why’s here. Suffice it to say that before a sperm cell can successfully fertilize the egg, the egg must jettison its extra copies of the chromosomes, leaving one member of each pair to pair with their partner from the sperm. The jettisoned chromosomes are contained in little pods called “polar bodies.”

The study in question analyzed the number of chromosomes in the polar bodies to determine how successfully the DNA divided in the eggs. This was done after the fertilization of the eggs by the sperm. If all went according to plan, there should have been the same number of chromosomes in the polar bodies as in the eggs. If not, then unequal division is responsible.

To make a long story short, in a study of 34 women’s (average age of 40) polar bodies it was found that there was a significant incidence of chromosomal abnormality. It is being hypothesized that the powerful hormones given to women in order to stimulate release of several eggs may very well loosen the molecular glue that holds chromosome pairs together prior to cell division, and that is the factor responsible for the unequal distribution of chromosomes.

Now for the verbal engineering.

“After IVF hormone stimulation, fertilised eggs bore patterns of chromosome abnormalities that were quite distinct from abnormalities in eggs that had been harvested naturally,” said Alan Handyside, the research team’s leader.

The article continues:

The new test helps pinpoint healthy eggs and damaged eggs, enabling doctors to advise a woman whether it is worth the emotional and financial investment to try for a pregnancy, said Handyside.

… “But for another group we will be able to say, ‘actually it’s good news, only about half of your eggs were abnormal, so you have a good likelihood of getting pregnant.’ And at the same time we can screen and reduce the possibility of having a Down’s child.”

First, it should be noted that the popular literature is saturated with the term, “fertilized eggs.” This is another dehumanizing and developmentally misleading term. The truth is that there is no such thing as a fertilized egg, unless one is willing to claim that there are over 6 billion fertilized human eggs walking the planet today. The truth is that the act of fertilization brings about an immediate end to the sperm and egg cells as such, and causes a human embryo to come into existence. The human embryo in its single-celled stage is called a zygote, not a “fertilized egg.”

Next, note how the clinician will approach the woman in the third quote. Note how the woman will be told that half of her eggs were abnormal. This can only be ascertained by analyzing the polar bodies, which are jettisoned AFTER fertilization. Thus, what is being said is that half of the woman’s offspring are headed for the trash can in the lab. These aren’t defective eggs. These are handicapped humans in their earliest stages of development.

Welcome to Twenty-first Century eugenics, the intolerance of imperfection in other human beings. In fairness to the parents undergoing IVF, nobody aspires to conceiving children who will be handicapped. It certainly wasn’t the aspiration my wife and I shared nineteen years ago when we married. However, God saw fit to permit us the privilege of having a son with autism, and our lives were forever changed for the better in the process.

We’ve learned an invaluable lesson raising Joseph. He has no imperfections, only additional needs. His additional needs have placed demands on us that have uncovered every selfish and self-centered appetite in us and challenged us to grow. In a narcissistic and hedonistic culture such as ours, such demands are intolerable to most, and those making them are being dispatched with increasing ruthlessness and efficiency.

The eugenics of the early Twentieth Century did not begin with Hitler’s Third Reich. It began decades before in the medical community. At the culmination in 1945 of those terrible events the world vowed, “Never again!”

It is a distant echo that is ringing increasingly hollow.

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A favorite of mine from first grade (1966) and now being read by my first grade daughter, this classic by P.D. Eastman tells the story of a bird who hatches when its mother is away, and of the search for its mother. The bird queries several animals and machines before being reunited with and introduced to its mother in the end.

It’s a whimsical story of a baby’s innocence, silly really. As I child I knew that one could only have one mommy. As I grew and learned of adoption, divorce, widowhood and remarriage, I learned that one could have more than one mother, step or otherwise, in sequence. Still, the thought that a child could not know its own mother, or have more than one are the impossibilities that drive the trajectory of the story line. Who knew that those impossibilities would become commonalities.

Today’s New York Post tells the story of a woman who was mistakenly implanted with another couple’s embryo at an IVF clinic. Read the story here.

The story is harrowing on several levels. It reopens for me the question that was the topic of my senior thesis in college, the year of the first surrogate baby:

What defines motherhood?

Certainly the origins of the zygote are a compelling case. But the baby becomes literally the flesh and blood of the woman in whose womb it grew. Its rhythms in sync with hers. It’s collective consciousness at birth all shaped by the in utero experience. What is natural and soothing is the sound of the birth mother’s voice, heartbeat, etc.

I honestly do not know who the mother is here. I tend toward the one in whom the baby grew, as that is the only ‘natural’ dimension of procreation in the whole sick and twisted process of bringing the child into the world through artificial means.

Your thoughts folks?

At least in the less complicated world of my childhood, there was a simple, natural, and happy ending to the book. What a terrible waste that this rupture consumes so much time and energy from the scientific and medical communities, when our time and talents could be and should be used for advancing humanity, rather than inventing new nomenclature and new laws for a new hybrid race of humans.

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Perhaps if the Justices in Ireland had read George and Tollefsen’s monumental, yet very readable work, Embryo: A defense of Human Life, they would have avoided handing down their recent catastrophic decision.

In ruling that human embryos are not human persons, the justices have decided that personhood is not an essential, intrinsic attribute of being, but rather an accidental attribute that comes and goes based upon some arbitrary criteria. This mistake now takes Ireland one very long step down the road toward more liberalized laws on abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide. The rest of the story here.

In the particular case before them, parental rights over frozen embryos, the true horror of in vitro fertilization manifests itself. Parents treat their offspring as mere property, to be disposed of at whim. This happens way before they get to the stage of storing the ‘leftovers’ in liquid nitrogen. The process of embryo sorting, looking for the most fit, occurs right after fertilization. In order to accomplish this, the embryo needs to defined out of the human family.

Medical textbooks used to define pregnancy as beginning with fertilization. To accommodate the abortafacient reality of the birth control pill and to accommodate IVF, the definition has been changed to pregnancy defined by implantation. Changing definitions does not change objective reality, but it does clear the way for big business.

The truth is that good parents do all within their power to facilitate each of their children’s growth and development. Liquid nitrogen cold storage is the greatest of all molestations. Winnowing the offspring for keepers is extreme narcissism, if not downright diabolical. But as human history teaches, once one is defined out of the human family, anything goes.

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