Assisted reproduction techniques, such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) or Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), enable couples who cannot conceive through natural means to have offspring.
However, these techniques entail certain risks and ethical difficulties that need to be taken into account and properly communicated to those accessing them.
Complications associated with assisted reproduction techniques
As detailed in an article published in the journal Nature in 2018, marking the 40th anniversary of the birth of Louise Brown, the first baby born through in vitro fertilization, the implementation of the technique has been linked to numerous ethical conflicts. These include embryo selection and discarding, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and clinical issues associated with these techniques.
A study compared a group of adolescents conceived naturally to another group conceived through assisted reproduction techniques. The latter group showed a higher incidence of anxiety or depression (10%) before reaching adulthood compared to 9% in adolescents conceived naturally. Although the differences are slight, based on various indicators of mental health, the researchers assert the consistency of the results.
Another study highlighted an increased prevalence of cardiovascular problems in children conceived through assisted reproduction techniques compared to those conceived naturally. This study, published in JAMA Network, conducted a robust analysis, comparing the incidence of cardiac issues between naturally born children and those born through assisted reproduction techniques. Out of the 764 children in the study, the 382 conceived through assisted reproduction techniques exhibited significantly higher incidences of left ventricular structural deficiencies and problems compared to naturally conceived children.
Further evidence shows a higher prevalence of complications associated with these techniques, such as low birth weight occurring in 13% of assisted reproduction births compared to 3% in naturally conceived births. Other research studies supporting these findings have been published in prestigious journals like Fertility and Sterility, The Lancet, and the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
An investigation published in The Lancet in 2019 examined data from 65,723 children born in Finland between 1995 and 2000. The study compared data from children born through assisted reproduction and natural means, as well as data from siblings born through both methods. Results showed that children born through assisted reproduction experienced more issues than naturally born children. This included not only low birth weight but also a significantly higher rate of premature birth (15% compared to 5% in the natural birth group) and a significantly higher rate of multiple pregnancies (21% in assisted reproduction compared to 2% in natural pregnancies). Consequently, 744 children conceived through assisted reproduction were born earlier than their siblings conceived naturally.
Moreover, a recent study published in the Journal of Perinatal Medicine concludes that the use of assisted reproduction techniques, along with other perinatal factors such as younger maternal age or a parental factor (such as a father with asthma), increases the risk of the offspring developing asthma.
Ethical challenges of IVF
The ethical concerns surrounding babies conceived through assisted reproduction techniques go beyond these side effects. The production of excess embryos that will not be implanted, leading to their destruction or cryopreservation, represents a tragedy of immense proportions to which we cannot remain indifferent. Human life begins after fertilization, whether by natural or “in vitro” means, and deserves dignified treatment in all cases. Clinics worldwide have freezers filled with embryos obtained during assisted reproduction cycles that were never implanted, remaining in an undignified state of abandonment, a situation that should not be normalized.