Breeder Reaction

Assisted reproductive technologies are the new front for conservative doctors and politicians

| June 29, 2006

Before the first 'test-tube' baby was born in 1978, couples who couldn't conceive were forced to adopt. Today, those with enough cash can choose from more than a half-dozen medical procedures in the hopes of reproducing, all thanks to the growth of assisted reproductive technology (ART), reports Elizabeth Weil in the July/August issue of Mother Jones.

But a bulging bank account -- just one cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF) costs an average of $12,400 -- doesn't guarantee treatment. In the spirit of pharmacists denying customers access to emergency contraception, doctors are relying on religious doctrines and personal ethics to refuse services to paying patients -- primarily same-sex couples, singles, the disabled, and anyone over 39.

A 2005 study by the scientific journal Fertility and Sterility paints a grim portrait of the challenges facing these groups. 'According to the study,' Weil reports, '59 percent of ART program directors agreed that everyone has the right to have a child, yet only 44 percent agreed that fertility doctors don't have the right to decide who is a fit parent.' Furthermore, 48 percent of those polled were 'very or extremely likely to turn away a gay couple seeking a surrogate, 38 percent said they would turn away a couple on welfare who wanted to pay for ART with Social Security checks, 20 percent said they would turn away a single woman? 13 percent said they would turn away a couple in which the woman had bipolar disorder? [and] 5 percent said they would turn away a biracial couple.'

The study raised several difficult questions, among them: Who is fit for pregnancy, and Who is fit to make that decision -- care providers, patients, or the government?

Conservative lawmakers across the country are at the ready to try to legislate their answers. A case in point: In Virginia, politicians launched an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to block single women's access to ART.

But such barriers are meeting success with outside legislatures, as Guadalupe Benitez and Joanne Clark learned in California. Although their OB/GYN clinic, the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group, provided hormonal drugs to remedy problems with Benitez's ovary and oversaw at-home sperm insemination treatments, no one on staff would facilitate a more successful form of in utero insemination, where a doctor injects sperm straight into the uterus.

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