Volume 18, Number 3 | JUNE10 -16, 2005

Talking Point

Help for all couples who want babies

By Jane Flanagan

President Bush was on the front page of The New York Times recently holding a one-month-old infant. This was no ordinary baby. He was conceived by in-vitro fertilization. Standing behind the president was a swarm of smiling parents, who also conceived their children this way.

Well it’s about time we got some profile.

Yes, “we.” Okay, maybe I am not an in-vitro mom, but I could have been. If I had more guts, that is.

Several years ago, wanting very much to have a child and not succeeding, I took a seminar on assisted reproduction. But after learning about the process in detail, I grudgingly concluded that I was not up to the challenge. Why?

Well, first there are the drugs. Extreme doses of hormones are necessary for in vitro and they can throw even calm, cool and collected women off kilter. Me? I get wacky on antibiotics and Nyquil. I knew I was not a candidate for daily injections of Lupron.

Then there is the cost. Anywhere from $12,500 - $20,000 per attempt. And it was not covered by my insurance. And finally, I don’t handle rejection well. At the time I was trying, a woman my age had a 10% chance of succeeding.

But this was during the Clinton administration. The science has no doubt advanced since then, and now that President Bush has taken up the cause maybe we’ll see some real improvement. After all, he held a White House press conference with in-vitro parents. With this kind of attention, reproductive technology could advance so that even hysterics like me can avail themselves. But we have a few hitches to overcome first.

The baby the president was holding was not an ordinary in vitro baby. His parents “adopted” him as an embryo. All those smiling parents in the room did the same. These embryos come from fertility clinics where couples who successfully conceive a child pass on their extra embryos. According to the president, since these embryos can become children, they should not be used in science, specifically stem cell research. To waste even a single one in this manner would be sinful. He acknowledges that this research could lead to cures in Parkinson’s, spinal chord injuries, Alzheimer’s and other diseases, but the sanctity of life is too important.

But therein lies the rub. In vitro fertilization is science, too. In order to have a shot at making a baby (often a long one!) many embryos must be implanted in the womb. The baby the president was holding was one of four embryos implanted in his mother’s. The other three died so that he could live. This is how in vitro works. Sometimes seven are implanted with the hope of yielding one viable embryo. That’s science.

I see another glitch, too. Usually, when the U.S. president holds a press conference on something so fundamental to the human experience, he’s promoting a plan to make it available to all Americans. Won’t every infertile woman want this? I read a recent New York Times article where a woman spent $300,000 to conceive her child. Talk about escalating health care costs.

In my case, my personality flaws led me to get on a plane to Moscow to find my baby. And what a find he was. My husband and I tell each other all the time we could not have produced anything nearly as terrific as this child.

Hey, come to think of it, maybe the president could hold a press conference on adoption and foster care. It certainly would be cost effective. We are already spending federal dollars on foster care and the system is in bad shape. The president could hold up a baby that’s just been adopted with smiling parents in the background. It’s a win win. There’s not even any pesky science to worry about.

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