The fertility industry’s lax regulation is just the tip of the iceberg


With the ethics of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) increasingly under question, its defenders have been doing all they can to ensure it remains legal and accessible. One recent article featured IVF advocates arguing that there are no issues of under-regulation within the fertility industry, which is entirely false.

A Vox article responded to claims that the fertility industry in the United States is nowhere near regulated enough, particularly compared to the rest of the world. And IVF activists were furious. “This specialized medical field is often criticized as being a ‘Wild West’ in which anything goes,” Kerry Lynn Macintosh, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, said in the article. “In my opinion, that criticism is inaccurate and unfair.”

The article then noted that there are tort laws in place to allow lawsuits over destroyed embryos, the Fertility Clinic Success Rate and Certification Act of 1992 requiring success rates be reported to the government, and doctors who violate medical ethics can face the loss of their ability to practice medicine. This is seen as “proof” that the fertility industry is regulated well enough already. “The idea that this field is unregulated is completely wrong, and people who make that argument are either grossly misinformed or intentionally misleading,” Sean Tipton, the chief advocacy and policy officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said.

Even the acknowledgment of potential further regulations is relatively self-serving. “It may be difficult to determine just what that oversight should be: How often do tanks need to be inspected? What types of safety procedures must be implemented? It is impossible to protect against all errors, but it is so important to be able to have confidence that one’s reproductive material is being stored safely,” Naomi Cahn, a University of Virginia law professor who focuses on reproductive technology, told Vox.

The priority isn’t the children

Yet the problem is not that the fertility industry needs to be regulated to ensure more successes or that embryos can be stored more safely. The problem is that there are virtually no safeguards in place for the children born through reproductive technologies, with issues present on multiple fronts.

One issue is the free-for-all of sperm donation, which often leads to children having hundreds — if not thousands — of siblings. While this issue will be derided on occasion, there are no efforts to curb serial sperm donors, or ensure that children born through assisted reproductive technology (ART) can know where they came from, who their biological parents are, their medical histories, or their heritage. The priority continues to be would-be parents over the children being conceived.

No background checks

Furthermore, while those who wish to be parents through adoption have to jump through numerous legal hoops, including background checks, there are no such restrictions on people who have children created through ART. Anyone with enough money can pay to have children created, no questions asked, and have custody of those children without oversight. Consider YouTuber Shane Dawson, who became the parent of twins through ART, despite having a history of repeatedly sexualizing children, including infants. Another surrogacy contract resulted in the Baby Gammy controversy, in which one child in a set of twins was abandoned in Thailand by the would-be parents because he had Down syndrome; the other child, however, went home to Australia with her purchasers… one of whom was a registered sex offender, and was able to keep custody of the child. And these are just two examples; there are many more.

Children’s concerns ignored

But any attempt to regulate the fertility industry is quickly shouted down, because it’s seen as heartless and cruel; how dare anyone prevent those struggling with infertility from creating a family? There is little-to-no concern over the well-being of the children and how it affects them. One Harvard Medical School study, for example, found that 62% of children conceived through donor technologies believe it to be unethical and immoral — but their concerns are rarely acknowledged, let alone acted on.

“I am a human being, yet I was conceived with a technique that had its origins in animal husbandry,” one donor-conceived person wrote in a book for Anonymous Us. “Worst of all, farmers kept better records of their cattle’s genealogy than assisted reproductive clinics … how could the doctors, sworn to ‘first do no harm’ create a system where I now face the pain and loss of my own identity and heritage.”

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