Thursday, 7 February 2013

Future shock

I read somewhere, ages ago, that IVF would become more and more common in the future. And that someday, scientists would reach the "Holy Grail" - technology that would mean a near-as-dammit-to-certain chance that every embryo transferred would lead to a live birth.

I guess, in that case, IVF might become a choice for fertile couples too. Why go through all the mess and uncertainty of trying to concieve normally when you could just pick a month and then plan around it accordingly (you already get those annoying couples who wonder if they should only try for a summer baby...).

And, following from that, voluntary infertility might become a choice too. Rather than worry about an unexpected pregnancy, you could just voluntarily get your tubes cut, then do a round of IVF when you were good and ready for it. You could even freeze eggs during your late teens or early 20s in order to do this.

It doesn't sound so bad, does it?

And yet, and yet...

Totalitarian governments have a long history for interfering with women's reproductive systems, from sterilisation in China to the banning of contraception and abortion in Caucescu's Romania. Where there's a power to choose, there's potentially a power to control.

Even in democratic governments, if a majority chose the IF-and-IVF route, it might get to a critical mass point where it became an appealling issue to legislate on. The Daily Mail would love it - it would be an almost automatic barrier to fecklessness, as it would almost certainly be a more time-consuming way to reproduce than the traditional way. The Jeremy Kyle show would run out of contestants.

You might agree with that, but I think the idea that choice would be removed, either through social convention or by law, is a frightening one

Then there's the other biggie, the one that religious groups are always up in arms over. How far would an IF-and-IVF system take us to "designer babies"? I'm guessing that if it would be possible to screen for embryos with a 99% chance of success, it would also be possible to screen for a whole range of other things.

I don't think it would mean an entire kindergarten of children modelled after that year's X-Factor winners but more than embryos that were likely to result in children ending up with long term, life limiting conditions not being allowed to be born.

Or that these children would only effectively be allowed to be born to families with the wherewithal to look after them, who chose to use high-risk embryos. Because why would anyone agree to pay into a common health insurance system or even a fundraising scheme, that covers enormously expensive medical care bills that could easily have been avoided? How many people would care that the parents might have had to choose between a risky embryo or no biological child? Where would you draw the line over the right to choose?

You start off thinking that more choice and better technology is almost always a good thing. IVF becoming a certainty rather than a 30% chance would help millions worldwide - particularly people who can't afford to gamble thousands.

But how far could it go to change society, and where to the changes stop being a benefit and start being something far more sinister?

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