IVF Conference Ponders Human Embryo’s “Out of Body Experience”

Opinion   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Sep 2, 2011   |   6:31PM   |   Washington, DC

The best Possible Start in Life: The robust and Responsive Embryo. That is the name of a conference on IVF to take place in London in November.  Reading through the line up of speakers is horrifying. Consider some of the questions being asked and discussed. On the embryo’s “out of body experience” which means its life in a dish, conference attenders can ponder the following:

Should the culture system emulate, as closely as possible, the characteristics of the mother’s uterus? Or should we embrace the artificiality of the culture system, and seek to optimise it accordingly? Is it best to culture embryos for a shorter duration or a longer duration before transfer? What should be the composition and temperature of the medium and surrounding air in which embryos are cultured? If freezing is involved, should eggs or embryos be frozen in the conventional (slow) way, or using the ultra-fast method of vitrification? And what are the implications of the culture system for the epigenetics of the embryo and resulting child?

After lunch attendees will learn about the long term affects of being conceived in a dish instead of a womb.  The “Growing Concern?” segment will address the epigenetic changes of the children of IVF:

Then there are the subtler and longer-term consequences of IVF. Fears that IVF babies might go on to have fertility problems have abated, not least because Louise Brown has herself had a naturally conceived and healthy baby. But epigenetics – enduring changes in the pattern of gene activity, during embryo development and beyond, that do not involve alteration of the DNA sequence – may be affected by assisted conception in ways that are as yet poorly understood. For example, genomic imprinting (which, for certain genes, prioritises the activity of the copy from one parent over the activity of the copy from the other parent) is an important epigenetic process whose disruption can lead to congenital disease (including marked learning difficulties).

Congenital disease including marked learning difficulties?  Where is the outrage that these questions are being asked AFTER millions of embryos have been created and not BEFORE.  It reminds me of a quote from Veronica Thomas, writer of the blog Children Have Rights – Say No to Repro Tech:

Scientists suspect that embryos that have developed in petri dishes are slightly different in some ways from embryos that develop in the womb, but they are still working out the specifics. They have some indications that IVF embryos are more likely to have certain genetic diseases and developmental problems. but they still need more data…. In other words, if you’re an IVF child, then you are a walking human experiment. Scientists are waiting to see what will happen to you as you get older, so that they can complete their data collections on the effects of IVF on people.  Sounds really ethical, doesn’t it?

It is not just the questions about the long term health of IVF children that are disturbing.  There is a recent story of an IVF clinic that “lost” a couple’s embryos and likely implanted them into the wrong woman.  Now the couple wants to know what happened to their embryos which may mean genetically testing all of the children born through that IVF clinic.  Add in that the majority of embryos are damaged in the freezing process and a quarter do not survive at all, I think it is very obvious that “The Best Possible Start in Life” occurs in the womb and not in an IVF lab.

LifeNews.com Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).