|Some Somber Views at Annual Meeting of Experts
BERLIN, 10 JULY 2004 (ZENIT)
The 20th annual meeting of the European
Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology provided a mixed bag of news.
Along with the usual news of the latest advances in in-vitro fertilization
(IVF) techniques, there were more somber presentations regarding the
limits and abuses of artificial reproduction methods.
The June 27-30 meeting got off to an inauspicious start when Rolf Winau,
professor of the history of medicine at the Free University of Berlin,
argued for lifting his country's restrictions on reproductive methods.
Winau urged Germany's doctors to get over the taboos triggered by the Nazi
abuses, the London-based Times reported June 28.
Winau argued for lifting the limits contained in the embryo protection law
that prevent the use of techniques such as pre-implantation genetic
diagnosis. This method identifies embryos with genetic problems, leading
to their destruction.
Then came news that for the first time a woman became pregnant following a
transplant of ovary tissue, BBC reported June 29. Doctors from the
Université Catholique de Louvain in Brussels had treated the woman, whose
baby girl, conceived naturally, is due in October.
The patient was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1997. Before
she underwent chemotherapy a portion of her ovary tissue was removed and
frozen. After she being declared free from cancer in April 2003, the
tissue was transplanted back into her body. Doubts still exist as to
whether the ovum which was fertilized came from the transplanted tissue or
from the other ovary which had been left in her body and could have begun
to function again.
Those doubts notwithstanding, Josephine Quintavalle of the UK Center for
Reproduction Ethics warned: "This technique should not be used lightly. I
sincerely hope it is not used as a lifestyle choice for deciding when you
want to have children."
Limits to success
The conference also warned women not to wait too long to have children, if
they are expecting to be able to solve any fertility problems through
artificial reproduction techniques. In a June 17 press release, conference
organizers gave details of a study by Henri Leridon, a demographer from
the French Institute of Health and Medical Research and the National
Institute for Demographic Studies.
Leridon's studies concluded that, under natural conditions, three-quarters
of women starting to try to conceive at the age of 30 will start a
successful pregnancy within one year. This falls to two-thirds for those
who start at 35 and drops to 44% for women starting at age 40.
But, noted Leridon, artificial techniques will make up for only half of
the births lost by postponing a first attempt at pregnancy from age 30 to
35 and fewer than 30% after postponing from 35 to 40 years. Referring to
women 35 or older, Leridon said that artificial methods "will not fully
compensate you for the years, and the chances of conceiving, that you have
Consequences for children
Some of the reports at the conference raised concerns about children
conceived through IVF. A study by British researchers concluded that
two-thirds of children born through embryo donations made by outsiders
will not be told about their true biological origins, the British
newspaper Independent reported June 29.
Psychologists from City University, London, interviewed a group of 21
parents who conceived through embryo donations, another group of 28
adoptive families, and 30 couples who conceived through normal IVF
methods. It turns out that only 30% of couples who use donated embryos
plan to be truthful about their children's origins. This compares to 100%
for the adoptive parents and 90% of those treated with their own embryos.
The Berlin conference also highlighted the dangers involved in cloning.
Researchers from Cornell University in New York state warned that cloning
creates potentially dangerous abnormalities in embryos, BBC reported June
The scientists conducted a study involving cloned mice embryos. They found
that far fewer of the cloned embryos reached the blastocyst stage, at
which embryos are 3 to 5 days old. As well, the researchers observed
unusual patterns of genetic development in the clones.
Dr. Takumi Takeuchi, who led the research, said the study "has made us
more convinced that reproductive cloning is unsafe and should not be
applied to humans."
Another study demonstrated that implanting multiple embryos puts both the
mothers and the babies at risk, the London newspaper Telegraph reported
June 30. The warning is based on a study by Dr. Ann Thurin, from
Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden. Her investigation
involved a group of 661 women under the age of 36.
Half were implanted with two embryos and the others were given just one
embryo. The women in the single-embryo group had a success rate of nearly
40%, compared with 44% for those given two embryos at one time. Thurin
explained that twins and triplets are more likely to be premature, be of
low birth weight and suffer from birth complications. They are also at
greater risk of being born disabled.
Protecting human dignity
The spreading use of IVF has long raised ethical concerns. Earlier this
year the Pontifical Academy for Life dedicated its general assembly to
this subject. The academy's concluding statement Feb. 21 was titled "The
Dignity of Human Procreation and Reproductive Techniques: Anthropological
and Ethical Aspects."
The declaration observed that in the 25 years since the first baby was
born using IVF, around 1 million children have been born using these
procedures. But the success rate of artificial techniques is still very
low, noted the statement, and a consequence of this is an enormous loss of
The pontifical academy warned of a mentality emerging that sees recourse
to artificial techniques as a preferential way to conceive children, since
the methods enable greater control over the quality of the embryos
conceived. This mentality brings with it the danger of seeing children as
a mere product whose value is dependent on reaching a satisfactory level
"The dramatic consequence of this is the systematic elimination of those
human embryos that lack the level of quality that is held to be sufficient
and, moreover, according to parameters and criteria that are inevitably
disputable," warned the pontifical academy's declaration.
The concluding statement declared that each human being is a unity of body
and soul from the moment of conception. "For this reason, the dignity
(which is the dignity of the human person) of a child, of every child,
independently of the practical circumstances in which his life begins,
remains an intangible and immutable good which requires recognition and
defense, both by individuals and by society as a whole."
The Pontifical Academy for Life's declaration acknowledged that couples
who cannot bear children by normal means undoubtedly undergo great
suffering. This understandable and licit desire for a child, however, "can
never be transformed into an arrogant 'right to a child' and, moreover, a
'right to a child at all costs.'"
The statement urged that a child "should be seen as a very valuable gift
to be welcomed with love," whenever it may arrive. The dignity of a
person, explained the academy, requires that the origins of a child should
take place within "the reciprocal gift of the married love of a man and a
woman, expressed and realized in the conjugal act with respect for the
inseparable unity of its unitive and procreative meanings." ZE04071001