by Mark Oshinskie

While in vitro fertilization (“IVF”) has become so commonplace that it is advertised on billboards and the radio, it has dark aspects that many do not consider. IVF’s commonness only makes it more socially problematic.

First, going beyond the Pill, IVF further separates sexuality from life creation. The last thirty years have shown what happens when sexuality and life creation are disconnected. In the 1970s, the culture came to view sex principally as something that feels good. Adultery became more common and the expectation that marriages would endure through challenging periods has waned. Divorce rates spiked and have remained high since. Many individuals never marry.

In this context, our culture views children as a something else that will provide self-gratification: a consumer product, not a gift from God or nature. If we substitute the actions of a mediating technician for man/woman intimacy, the basis for sexual exclusivity in marriage declines and the sacredness of marriage is further attenuated. This commodification of life readily extends to third party egg or sperm sales or womb rentals to IVF users, each of which amounts to what the progressive commentator Andrew Kimbrell has labeled “technological adultery.”

Second, IVF entails the mass production — and mass destruction — of life and engenders an ownership orientation to life. Because it is economically efficient to do so, IVF practitioners make multiple embryos, use as many as their owners want, freeze the rest for years and eventually destroy them. In addition to having made millions of frozen, disposable embryos, IVF clinics routinely implant multiple embryos to increase their success rates, and their profits, and “selectively reduce,” i.e., abort the extra unwanted fetuses that implant in the womb by injecting postassium chloride into the hearts of the unwanted.

Third, IVF enables high tech eugenics. IVF embryos are genetically screened for defects and gender. Only those considered suitable are implanted. This quality control process intensifies monthly as genetic interpretation accelerates. In a high tech version of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” genetic profiling enables parents to prenatally purge the defective. It is a form of prenatal capital punishment imposed on the imperfect, or maybe just the undesired girl or boy.

Fourth, IVF is a high tech fix for the social problems of sexual promiscuity and postponed marriage. STD or abortion scarring causes much of the demand for IVF. Most remaining infertile couples have waited until after their prime childbearing years to attempt conception. Instead of addressing the underlying causes of IVF demand: serial partner sex, commitment-phobia, hyper selectivity of suitable mates and the prioritization of career or bucket list fulfillment over family, we ask technicians to bail us out, just as we do — with similarly dubious results — with so many other social problems.

Fifth, IVF is extremely expensive. Each round typically costs over $12,000, multiple rounds often occur and, given the complications that often arise in IVF pregnancies, IVF and extra prenatal and postnatal care can end up costing well over $100,000/couple. Many states require insurance companies to pay for IVF. Thus, IVF adds many hundreds of dollars to average annual medical insurance premiums and, therefore, puts basic medical insurance out of the reach of many people.

Sixth, IVF clinics are facilitating human cloning and human genetic engineering, both technologically and morally. Much of the same equipment, techniques and research developed for IVF is used for cloning. If such individualistic, consumer-sovereign reprotech as IVF is accepted, on what moral basis could society oppose other forms of reproductive choice, such as selecting a child’s sex, genetically designing the unborn or cloning? On the surface, each of these processes might produce healthy looking offspring that please IVF clients and their family and friends. But then, wouldn’t those who built their dream houses on Normandy Beach or in Yosemite Valley enjoy the view?

Means and secondary effects matter. IVF users disregard these, at great cost to the larger society. A world in which life has become a lab-derived commodity is a worse place in which to grow up.