Ethics and dangers of IVF: Part 2

[notice]In Vitro Fetilisation (IVF) has become a fairly common procedure and a lifeline for many infertile couples. But is there more to this practice than meets the eye? DIANNE STEVEN sounds the alarm on medical, ethical and legal problems associated with IVF. In the second article of a 4-part series she discusses concerns about medical risks that have been linked with IVF in reports and studies from various parts of the world.[/notice]

Aggressive IVF treatments at clinics in the UK are putting women and babies at risk, experts say. Professor Nargund, of St George’s Hospital in South London said there was mounting evidence that the usual method of IVF used in the UK, in which ovaries are stimulated with high doses of drugs to produce large quantities of eggs for harvesting, was harmful to women’s health and caused chromosomal abnormalities to resulting embryos.

In the United States, Illinois Right to Life released a study published in the New England Medical Journal which showed evidence that babies conceived by IVF have a 1 in 10 risk of birth defects – twice the rate of babies born naturally – including holes in their hearts, the development of only one kidney, brain abnormalities, and cleft lips and palettes. Studies by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Washington University discovered that children conceived from IVF have a six-fold increase in risk of Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome, which causes malformations and cancer. This fact alone should cause us to question the morality of IVF.

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From the UK there have been reports of IVF babies being aborted because they have genetic abnormalities such as Down’s Syndrome. According to a report in the Daily Mail, over five years, a termination occurred once a fortnight on babies conceived through IVF-type treatments, after the mother was told there was a genetic abnormality. The data held by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority shows that Down’s syndrome was the most commonly given reason for an abortion. Foetal abnormality was the next biggest reason for abortion, and then Edward’s Syndrome, another condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome., in a report on a field of study known as epigenetics, says IVF babies have been shown to have different patterns of gene expression than those conceived naturally, and that these changes may put IVF babies at greater risk for diabetes and obesity. If epigenetic changes can be passed on to future generations then IVF is not just about the child couples so desperately want to hold, says the report. The choices parents make in creating the next generation may be choices that extend to their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Comprehensive study
Researchers at the University of Adelaide, in Australia, confirmed an elevated risk of defects among IVF babies. In the most comprehensive study of its kind in the world, researchers have compared the risk of major birth defects for each of the reproductive therapies commonly available internationally, such as: in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and ovulation induction. The odds for any birth defect in pregnancies involving assisted conception are 8.3%, compared to 5.8% for unassisted pregnancies. “While assisted reproductive technologies are associated with an increased risk of major birth defects overall, some fertility treatments appear to be riskier, such as, Intracytoplasmic sperm injection, a technique which involves injecting a sperm into the egg,” says the lead author of the study from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Institute and School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health. “The risk of birth defects for IVF was 7.2% and the rate for ICSI was higher at 9.9%. Cryopreservation (freezing) of embryos is associated with a reduced risk of birth defects, which may be due to developmentally compromised embryos failing to survive the freeze /thaw process.

Another reported concern is the tripling of risk of birth defects in women using the fertility drug clomiphene citrate to stimulate ovulation outside of a supervised clinical setting.

These reports from various medical studies around the world beg the question: How have we reached a place where women are helped to hyper stimulate their ovaries, conceive their babies in a test tube, let doctors put these tiny embryos into their wombs and then opt for the destruction of extra babies when “too many” have been implanted or abort their much wanted baby with Downs’ Syndrome?

There is no doubt that bringing up a child with special needs involves substantial emotional and financial cost, and yet at the very heart of the Christian gospel is the Lord Jesus who chose to lay down his life to meet our own ‘special needs’. The Apostle Paul tells us that Christ died for us ‘when we were powerless’ and that ‘bearing one another’s burdens’ is at the very heart of Christian morality.

The list of reported IVF-related health risks continues. Prepping for IVF requires significant alterations to hormone levels, which can lead to or increase the risk of health problems. One of the consequences can be high levels of estrogen which can cause irregular periods, depression, uterine fibroids, osteoporosis, memory loss, and infections.

PGD, or Pre-Implementation Genetic Diagnosis (embryo screening), is a standard service in IVF clinics. A technician removes a cell from an embryo and tests it for defects. If it has no defects it is implanted in the womb. In the United States, a Wellesley College biologist, Dr Michelle LaBonte, claims that in efforts to eliminate risk, using PGD, we may be creating new risks, even more concerning than those we are trying to avoid.” She found that “86.6% of PGD performing centres state that PGD is safe and/or fail to disclose any risks despite the fact that the impact of the procedure on the long-term health of offspring is unproven”.

  • In Part 3 of this IVF Series, which will be published next week, Dianne Steven writes about further ethical, Biblical and legal considerations of IVF. The writer is a registered nurse and midwife, and has a Bachelors degree in Ministry. She has been involved in missions, prison work, ministering to gangsters and drug addicts, and been involved in pro-life work, for the last 20 years.


  1. This scares me. Some people rely on IVF to have a baby and still some clinics do not do the procedures correctly. It is a shame that some clinics are giving a bad impression about IVF by doing these kinds of things.

  2. Many people, including Christians, are uninformed and that is why I have written this article – the Bible says that God’s people perish for a lack of knowledge! We need to have more open debate on these types issues, to challenge our thinking and choices, so that lives can be saved! Basically, we should always do our homework before having these types of procedures. Know exactly what the doctor is going to do; ask questions.