The Heartbreaking Truth About Assisted Reproductive Technology

by Kallie Fell, Executive Director on November 30, 2021

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I love it when new research surfaces on women’s and children’s health, specifically in the areas of artificial reproductive technologies (ART) like IVF, egg ‘donation’, and surrogacy. It’s unfortunate that, despite social changes including the women’s rights movement and feminism, we continually fall behind in understanding the female body, and we continually allow #BigFertility to experiment on our bodies without sufficient research on the impacts of ART. 

In her book, Everything Below the Waist: Why Health Care Needs a Feminist Revolution,  Jennifer Block quotes Judith Stern, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, “There is a gap in our knowledge about the long-term outcomes of ART… We’ve been doing this for well over 30 years at this point, and about 15 years ago we started realizing that there really were adverse outcomes, at least in the short term for babies.” Studies have shown that these short-term effects include low birth weight, increased risk of prematurity increased rates of NICU admission, and birth defects. 

So of course I was thrilled when a new study emerged from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open asking about the long-term cardiovascular health of children conceived by ART. This study included 764 children aged six to ten years old, born with or without ART, and the answer found wasn’t good. They found that “children conceived by assisted reproductive technology had statistically significantly worse outcomes in left ventricular function and structure.”  

Broken down, this study found children born from IVF to have significantly: 

  • increased blood pressure, increased left ventricular systolic dysfunction
  • increased parameters of left ventricular structure
  • increased prevalence of left ventricular hypertrophy, left ventricle remodeling patterns, including concentric remodeling, eccentric hypertrophy, and concentric hypertrophy

All that fancy language to state “children conceived by ART had increased blood pressure and unfavorable changes in left ventricular structure and function compared with children who were naturally conceived.”

The authors conclude by saying “Because childhood is a critical window for early detection, potential intervention, and improvement of cardiac health among children conceived by ART, it may be possible to reverse the unfavorable alterations in their cardiac structure and function. Further studies are necessary to confirm the association between ART and cardiovascular remodeling and to explore the potential biological mechanisms underlying the association.” 

Every time I read a study like this it ends with “further studies are necessary.” Let’s conduct these studies then. Let’s stop experimenting on our children. 

We know that there are risks to children born from IVF; this includes children born from surrogacy. This study is one of several that admits it. However, rather than call to limit IVF and surrogacy, this journal suggests we find and treat these children, not prevent these outcomes in the first place. 

Are we really going to continue to allow our need and longing to have a family of “our own” to trump any risks to our infants and children? Isn’t the clear and ethical solution to pause or at-least slow down ART until we know more? Until we are sure we aren’t harming women and children? And why did it take so long for us to start looking? 

Are you Interested in hearing more from Jennifer Block? Check out my interview with her on Venus Rising!

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