CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

IVF and Identity Theft

Aug 16, 2014

There are plenty of problems associated with IVF and related forms of assisted reproductive technologies. I have written about them often, and it seems we keep learning of more drawbacks and difficulties with these procedures. But we often think only about the adults and their wants in these situations. Seldom do we consider the wellbeing of the children so conceived.

How do they perceive their situation? What disadvantages, if any, do they experience? How is their sense of personal history and identity affected by their unique situation? Such questions could not be properly answered until recently. But now that many IVF children are in their twenties, we can begin to find out.

who am IWe now have plenty of children conceived by IVF who have spoken of the loss and/or confusion of identity. In an age that emphasises knowing one’s roots and searching one’s genealogy, the dilemma of IVF children is greatly heightened.

Many were conceived by donor sperm or egg. Some were housed in a surrogate mother. Indeed, for many, there is not a mother and a father, but a gaggle of “parents” and players. They have in effect been raised by a committee, not a mother and father.

There are now heaps of tragic stories to share in this regard. Let me offer a few recent ones. Myfanwy Walker was conceived through an anonymous sperm donor. In her twenties she finally found who the man was. It has been a harrowing experience for her. She is glad she finally discovered her genetic heritage. “But there was a massive amount of loss there for me. There were almost 20 years I could never reclaim, coupled with the realization that I could never have the genetic relationship with my own dad.”

She continues, “Basically my problem is with the ethics of the practice. It doesn’t protect the rights of the child. Once people understand the issues they probably wouldn’t choose to conceive via donor. . . . It should be a question of whether it’s in the interests of the child. You can’t negate that, you really can’t.”

Or consider an even more recent case. Here is how one press account relates the story:

A woman conceived with the help of a sperm donor has taken a rare legal step to find out the identity of her biological father. In a case that could affect thousands of donor-conceived families, Kimberley Springfield has asked a tribunal to overturn a bureaucratic decision that no action be taken to help identify the donor.
Her case comes as state and federal parliamentary inquiries due to report in the coming months consider donor conception and the rights of donor-conceived people to gain access to identifying information about their donors. In submissions to both inquiries, Ms Springfield, 26, whose sister and at least four half siblings were conceived with her biological father’s sperm, said she had suffered mentally, emotionally and physically from being denied knowledge about her family since she found out how she was conceived five years ago.
“I cannot fathom going through life never knowing where I have come from, my ancestry and my identity,” Ms Springfield wrote. “Every day I look at the faces of people around me and wonder: ‘Could you be my father, my half sister, my half brother, my grandparent?”’

Another more recent story about another such person also speaks to the heartache and misery one can experience. This young woman even went so far as to say she wished she had never been born. Gracie Crane was one of the first children conceived from donor embryo in the UK, and she does not even have a right to know who her biological parents are. A large article about this is worth quoting from at length:

Gracie, who is mixed race, was one of the first children in Britain conceived from a donor embryo, which means she has no genetic link to either of her parents. As she was born in 1998 – seven years before amendments were made to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act allowing children born through donor conception to trace their genetic parents – she has no right to find out who her biological parents are. Or even whether there are any hereditary conditions which may affect her in the future….
Having reached 16, and with the support of her clearly devoted parents, Gracie is speaking out because she wants anyone contemplating such a decision to understand just how difficult her life has been, despite being raised by a couple who adore her.
‘I would like to be a mother one day so I can finally have someone I’m genetically related to, but if I can’t have children naturally I would never have one through donor conception,’ says Gracie. ‘I wouldn’t put anybody else through what I’ve been through. Knowing that the two people I love most don’t look like me and that I am not biologically related to them has been really tough. There are times I’ve wished I’d never been born — as much as I love my parents, it’s just so sad not knowing who I am and where I came from’…
‘Anyone considering starting a life which has already been started somewhere else shouldn’t just think about their desire to have a baby and take the fastest option,’ she says. ‘They should be as selfless as possible and think about how the child will feel growing up — speak to people like me and my parents. If people are going to have a donor-conceived child, they need to match up the donors to the parents. But then embryos that can’t be matched will be thrown away, and that’s not right either,’ she adds, her huge brown eyes welling up again.

One more story concerns Sarah Dingle, who discovered in her young adult years that she was conceived by means of an anonymous sperm donor, and that she will never find out the name of her biological father. Here is part of her moving story:

What I now know is that my parents began going to the Human Reproduction Unit at the Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH), a Sydney public hospital, in 1982. It was just before the AIDS scare fully broke. I started digging. I contacted the clinic for my medical records. The RNSH Human Reproduction Unit had been taken over by IVF Australia, part of the Australian Stock Exchange-listed Virtus Health, which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. IVF Australia keeps all records created by the public hospital.
I rang IVF Australia and was put onto a woman who handles these cases – people like me, the babies who come back to ask questions. I’ll call her Mary. Mary took my details, but said she probably wouldn’t be able to tell me my donor’s name because when I was conceived in 1982, the law was different. What I’ve found out since is that there was no law.
Australia’s assisted reproductive technology industry is today worth more than a billion dollars. It makes money out of human life. But crazily, there is no national legislation regulating the industry. Some states have acts governing the industry, but not all. My home state of NSW is one of the most enlightened for donor-conceived people, but even here, only children born after January 1, 2010 – that is, only toddlers – have the right to identifying information about their donors. The rest, like me, don’t have that right. Because the industry is unregulated nationally, no one knows exactly how many donor-conceived people exist, but the Donor Conception Support Group estimates that within Australia there are about 60,000.

Her concluding words are also worth sharing:

Let me be clear: I don’t need another parent. I couldn’t have asked for a better father than the man who brought me up. But I could do with some answers about why I am the way I am, who my family is, and what genetic time bombs I should watch out for. I would like to know who my biological father is, and to have an amicable relationship with him. You’d think that the former, at least, would be a legal right.
The reality is that I’ll live my entire life as an only child who probably has more brothers and sisters than most people I know. In the end, because Saunders’ clinic chose to destroy donor codes, I’ll never find my family. I’ve come to terms with this, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. What happened to me in the 1980s could be happening right now. There is no national law keeping this industry’s practices in check or protecting the rights of the child. Without the right to the truth about our genetic origins, donor-conceived people will remain products of industry, not human beings.

This lack of roots and family identity is so severe that entire organisations have been established around the world by those conceived by the new biotechnologies. One such organisation is The Anonymous Us project. It features many heart-wrenching stories of those brought into the world in this way.

All the more reason to call a timeout here and have a major rethink about where all this is heading, and what harm it is actually causing to so many.

tangledwebsorg.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/fertile-ground-for-doubt/
www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/woman-goes-to-court-to-find-father-20110126-1a5f1.html
www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2669842/Donor-IVF-baby-says-I-wish-Id-never-born-Its-great-IVF-taboo-child-feel-never-knowing-biological-parents-For-family-answer-shattering.html
www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/misconception-20140811-3dha9.html#ixzz3AWrXII8U
anonymousus.org/

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26 Responses to IVF and Identity Theft

  • Great post, Bill. I really feel for these children and am worried that this sort of anguish will only get worse with changes in third party reproduction as in gay marriages.

  • Thanks Jo. Yes my next book will deal with all the brave new world scenarios coming out of the new biotechnologies, aided and abetted by the social engineers.

  • Some interesting points, but realty is with the introduction of legislation precluding the right for sperm and egg donors to anominimity there will be a large reduction in donors. I can’t speak for the rest of Australia but this is certainly the case in Queensland.

    Another reality is that if there wasn’t a sperm or egg donor many of these IVF children would not be alive, I appreciate one said they wish they hadn’t been born, but just because there are examples out there of people upset because they can’t identify their biological parents, it doesn’t mean the bulk if IVF donor babies have this attitude. There are many out there who are not concerned about this issue, I have met them, but because of this they won’t appear in newspaper articles because there is no ‘story,’ I would suggest they are the silent majority.

    I think the suggestion that the parents of these IVF donor babies are nothing more than a ‘committee’ shows how little experience the author had of this issue. As a husband who has gone through the painful experience of infertility, and had to watch his wife suffering because we couldn’t have a child, I probably have more experience than most in relation to this issue. We spent some $15K on IVF, and with the grace if God, he blessed us with a beautiful child. There was no donor egg / sperm / surrogacy involved. As a side note God has blessed us with a second child due in November which involved no IVF. The reason why I say all this, and criticise the use of the word ‘committee’ to describe parents of IVF donor babies, is because it couldn’t be further from the truth. People who have suffered from infertility issues, and gone through the painful process of IVF and know how heart wrenching it is, are people who are utterly desperate to be parents and have a child. The consequence of this is that whilst IVF donor parents may not love their children any more than regular parents, but they have a special appreciation for their children which normal patents probably don’t have for their children. This is because regular parents generally have sex, and then sooner or later the wife becomes pregnant. Perhaps it’s not even planned. The point is there was no pain and suffering involved in becoming pregnant. As a person who once never believed I would be a father, and was looking into adoption, I have a special appreciation and gratitude for my child which is hard to comprehend. Therefore to describe IVF parents as ‘committee members’ shows a lack of practical understanding of IVF issues, there are some things researching articles on the Internet just can’t teach you.

    Infertility is a painful experience for anyone, IVF, and using donor eggs and sperm is often people’s last resort, in a perfect world there would be no infertility and no one would need donor eggs or sperm but that’s not the case. Donor eggs and sperm allow women and men to be loving mothers and fathers, and raise a child who is truly loved and ‘wanted,’ together. Is it perfect? No, but better than a system which precludes anominimity and therefore there are no donors, and therefore no IVF donor children or parents.

    Of course it’s easy to argue otherwise when you have never had to face a life without children.

  • The problems you describe are not with IVF per se, but with children conceived through donor sperm. IVF simply uses technology to short-circuit the natural process which is necessary for men with low counts etc.
    Don’t confuse the two issues.

    You could also argue that some of the problems you describe are also common to adoption. I know many adopted children who have had the same identity confusion…

  • Thanks Bob. But please tell us where I said in this article that no one should ever use IVF. I simply pointed out some legitimate concerns about one aspect of IVF. And those concerns are significant enough to warrant what I said about taking a timeout here to ethically reassess – something every single Christian should not have a problem with.

    While it is nice that you got a good outcome here, not everyone does of course. Many have experienced real heartbreak and disillusionment in this area. There are many other problems associated with IVF, as I document elsewhere, not only in my forthcoming book, but in numerous articles. I outline a few problems here: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/08/30/concerns-about-ivf/

    And here: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/06/10/we-create-them-and-then-we-destroy-them/

    I don’t accept your claim that since I have not personally experienced IVF I have no right to speak about it and highlight some of its concerns. You might as well suggest that since I have not personally experienced a rape, or war, or cancer, I cannot speak to those issues either. And of course this article consists entirely of those who have experienced it – first hand. They are fully qualified to speak out about this, and their bad experiences. So you simply seem to be shooting the messenger here.

    And I never said every baby so conceived has a committee involved. But of course many do, and there can be many players and many “parents” involved in the whole process. That happens to be perfectly true.

    Also, parochialism is not helpful here either. I of course have presented stories from people from around the globe in this article, not just Australia. My audience is global, so I address global issues.

  • Thanks Andrew. If you read my piece carefully you will find that I said that these can be issues arising from IVF and associated ART procedures. The two (IVF and donor sperm, eggs) are not equivalent but of course they quite often go together. And while you are correct to say that adopted children can and do also feel the same identity crisis issues, the two things are quite different. I go into all this in great detail in my forthcoming book, but just one quick quote from a Christian ethicist: “Adoption of a child already born and without a home is acceptable, while intentionally producing children who will require adoption by one or both spouses is quite questionable.”

  • Apart from stealing a child’s god-given right to have both a mother and father, let alone identity, there is the question of allowing single men and women to procure children. This is no different to babies being torn from their slave mothers and put up for sale in America before the abolition of slavery.

    Two gay Millionaires, Barry Drewitt and Tony Barlow who have produced six children through buying the eggs and wombs of at least four women and who advertise for extra curriculum sex on the gay dating website, Gaydar, have now started the British Surrogacy Centre. Here they talk about enabling a foul-mouthed homosexual TV star, Bobby Norris to have a child.

    www.unrealitytv.co.uk/the-only-way-is-essex/towie-star-bobby-norris-become-daddy-now-hes-found-egg-donor/

    Other abuses of the UN Convention of Children’s rights:

    www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20671176

    David Skinner UK

  • Re infertility, as a side note, I wanted to add this.

    I have experienced years and years of late first trimester miscarriages and infertility and lost 8 babies to miscarriages. I did not use IVF although this was constantly suggested.

    We all prayed and asked God’s help and we finally had a healthy baby boy at an age where most Drs had said it was impossible for me to conceive or at least there was a less than 1% chance.

    I read and read everything I could lay my hands on and found that most people will have a baby if they ensure that any structural, hormonal or physical impediments to conception are removed, if they keep persisting naturally and bide their time. The IVF industry is a big money spinner and couples are urged to see an IVF clinician after 12 months of trying. The literature I read said that it can take some couples 8 years.

    We felt that IVF was not trusting in God and accepting his help.

  • Anonymous, as part of a couple that has also experienced a number of miscariages i feel for you, and am very happy for you that you now have a child.

    I don’t see using IVF as ‘not trusting god,’ i think God is involved in IVF as much as he is involved in natural conception. All IVF does is take a sperm, place it in an egg and place the egg in the uterus. Ultimately its no different to natural conception, its just giving nature a helping hand. But whether using IVF, or relying on natural conception, God is still required to create the ‘spark’ which makes a baby’s heart beat for the first time.

    Ultimately if god blesses you with a baby he will do it no matter which path you choose.

  • Thanks Bob. No you are quite wrong. God does not and cannot bless any and every path we choose in this area. Christians of all people should be fully aware of the fact that many aspects of ART are unethical and unbiblical, such as the disruption of the marital bond by the introduction of third and fourth parties, etc. And the IVF industry is of course notorious for creating surplus embryos – in order to get more bang for their buck. The great majority of these newly created lives are later destroyed. God never blesses an assault on the marriage bond, and he never blesses the destruction of innocent human life. But sadly most people – and even Christians – are so desperate for a child that they will overlook or ignore these clearly unChristian practices, thinking that the end justifies the means. But it does not, and given how little most folks know about this, that is why my next book will be all about these matters. But I already linked to articles about this which it seems you have not bothered to look at.

  • And yes you are quite right anon. The statistics are clear on this – those couples who persist without the aid of ART quite often end up with children anyhow. And you are also right that the IVF industry is just that: it is a money-making industry, and their bottom line is primarily profit, more than the well-being of others.

  • Though assurances are given that embryo technology will not be a slippery slope into much darker forms of biological engineering, history has shown that once the barriers are broken down to God’s laws the slippery slope becomes a free fall into hell.

    www.christianconcern.com/our-concerns/bioethics/hfea-grants-human-pig-hybrid-embryo-licence.

    www.christian.org.uk/news/concern-over-animal-human-embryos-grown-in-uk-labs/

    David Skinner UK

  • There are many issues here, and I certainly agree that there are aspects of IVF that are wrong and others that are questionable, but many of the concerns related are, as has been said, common to adoption. Out of three adoptees I know very well, one now has a relationship with her birth mother, but not with her birth father, because he doesn’t want it. One older adoptee was never able to track down her biological parents, and the third did once make contact with a sister but otherwise has not been able to make contact with her biological parents.

    One thing that I find concerning, though, is that these new technologies that include donors remaining anonymous have been developed at the same time that there has been a heightened awareness of the desire of adoptees to make contact with their biological parents, along with changed laws and processes facilitating this.

    And of course some who persist without IVF, etc., end up with children naturally. But this is not guaranteed. We investigated IVF (it would have been with our eggs and sperm), and our stipulation that no embryos be destroyed was accepted, but in the end we decided not to proceed, and we never had children.

    Is every medical doctor in it for the money? Of course not. Is every IVF doctor in it for the money? I would not be prepared to claim that.

  • Thanks Philip. I have already mentioned how adoption is quite different. In adoption a child already exists, and is in need of new parents or guardians. An emergency exists, and this is the best way to help out. In the case of ART, a child is created, who often will not have a biological mum, or dad, or both. So while identity issues may bother both, as I commented earlier, they are otherwise quite different. But I have already penned a whole piece on this, contrasting one type of ART with adoption:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2014/06/29/surrogacy-versus-adoption/

  • And it is good that you could get a guarantee that the surplus embryos would not be destroyed. But the only way that can be guaranteed to occur is by embryo adoption (giving them to another couple). But even there, life is not guaranteed, as this new couple may not mind having the surplus ones destroyed.

    And the only other two options available for spare embryos would be to offer them up for medical research (meaning they have to be destroyed), or be put in deep freeze. But under Victorian law, after five years all such spare embryos have to be destroyed (flushed down the sink basically).

  • Thanks Bill, I did read your articles, and they are both very interesting, I can’t argue with the latter about the destruction of eggs, but you might find this is less prevalent than you think, as for many people the production of eggs (or lack of it), is the reason for their infertility (as was our case). As for the former article, no one is suggesting IVF is perfect or the ‘silver bullet,’ but most of the issues you raised do not bear any resemblance to my experience with IVF, or the experience of anyone I know. Or put another way, the statistics and experiences you cite are in stark contrast to every person I know who has been through IVF, I’m not suggesting it’s all made up but it’s not all ‘doom and gloom’ like you purport it to be.

  • Actually, it was years ago and I forgot the exact details, but I now remember that the agreement was that no surplus embryos would be created; they would only fertilise those that were to be implanted. If we had gone ahead, this would mean that if we wanted more, there would be extra cost as the fertilisation stage would have had to be repeated.

    And I didn’t disagree that adoption is different, but that doesn’t change that the stories you related would, for the most part, also apply to adoptees.

  • Hi Bill just though I’d bring something up which is also related to the whole issue of IVF and artificial reproduction. Not sure if you are aware but there is now talk about same sex reproduction becoming a reality for people. It has already worked with mice and rats, back in 2003 Japanese scientists created a baby mouse using DNA from two female mice which means that the baby mouse has two biological mothers and back in 2010 American scientists created a baby mouse using dna from two male mice which means that the baby mouse has two biological fathers. The next step is to make this technology possible for humans and if it does become possible for humans that will mean that two gay men will be able to have their own biological children and it will mean that two lesbians will be able to have their own biological children. This will no doubt cause many problems if it were to be possible in the future and it would also be unfair to the children as they will have either no mother or no father. Would like to know what your thoughts are on this.

  • Thanks again Bob. But what you call gloom and doom most others would simply see as sharing vital and important information in a controversial area. While you obviously have vested interests here, ordinary Australians are certainly entitled to be fully informed about some of the downsides here, especially since the mainstream media is largely not covering these concerns, and the IVF industry is certainly not going to discuss such things. The simple truth is, there are many genuine and very troubling problems associated with IVF in particular and ART in general (these include moral, medical, social, psychological, legal and biblical concerns) which cannot just be swept under the carpet. So as long as we are not getting the whole story here, I will most certainly undertake my Christian responsibly and obligation to share these inconvenient truths. If that is not to the liking of some, no one is forcing them to come here.

  • Thanks John. Yes it is a very real concern and will generate even more problems on a massive scale. We have managed to convince ourselves that we can separate sex from reproduction, and now we are trying to separate reproduction from family. All part of a creepy brave new world we are embarking upon.

  • There are so many parralel lines with adoption and ART especially when you consider the ” emergancy ” or crisis is a fabrication designed to make a baby available for adoption before it is born.

  • I have always been wary of speaking or writing on these issues, not wanting to hurt feelings unnecessarily, especially as we had five children with no difficulty, but it has always seemed to me to taking things a bit too much into our own hands when we try to produce babies by other than the usual means. Adoption is of course another matter altogether and I see no reason against it as a practice if good parents can be found. I’m glad you had the courage to write on the subject, Bill.

  • Thanks for this article, Bill. And thanks for your new book. It is on my iPad already.

    There are other issues that have to be taken into consideration when it comes to IVF.

    1. The British government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority warned in 2009 that IVF babies have a 30% higher risk of genetic abnormality.

    2. According to a 2010 French study, assisted reproductive technologies double a baby’s risk of deformity. The study found that over 4% of fertility-treatment children had some form of congenital deformity, compared to the rate in the general population of between 2% and 3%.

    3. Babies born from IVF are up to 10 times more likely to suffer from rare genetic disorders, according to a pro-IVF geneticist. In an address to the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, University of Toronto geneticist Dr. Rosanna Weksberg called for more study of a link between fertility treatment and certain rare genetic disorders.

    4. Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome occurs in one of every 1,300 fertility-treatment children, compared to one in 13,000 in the general population, according to Weksberg. It causes symptoms such as unevenly sized limbs, an enlarged tongue and a high risk of kidney tumors.

    5. Angelman syndrome occurs in one in 1,500 among fertility-treatment children, compared to one in 15,000 in the general population. It causes serious mental retardation and speech impairment.

    6. The results of a study presented during the annual ESHRE (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology) conference that took place in Munich (29/06-02/07 2014) suggest that IVF babies face greater – by 33% – risk of mental illness.

    7. The official (governmental) data from Italy for 2007 state that the “succes rate” of IVF is less than 10%. On 71 thousand IVF babies only 6 thousand survived. They also mention a terrible “side effect”: 5349 died during the unfreezing process.

    8. IVF does not treat infertility; NaProTechnology does (www.naprotechnology.com).

  • Thanks Mark. Yes I cover a whole range of these sorts of issues in my forthcoming book. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Before I became a Christian just on 10 years ago, I was a reflexologist (amongst other things!) and one of my clients was a manager/sister at one of the Bristol (UK) hospitals (can’t remember the name) that was the leader where babies were born via ART of some kind. I clearly remember her saying that a high number of babies were born with deformities and problems in addition to many marriage breakdowns soon after births.

    Another concern for me with various ART is the fact that frequently a 3rd party is involved somewhere and as Christians and before God does this not become adultery?

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