Breeder Reaction

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.

Benitez, with lawyer Jennifer Pizer, sued on the basis ‘that the
same framework used to protect people from discrimination in all
public settings should also be used to protect people from
discrimination in a fertility clinic.’ Her case is currently on
appeal, and may go before California’s State Supreme Court in the
fall. — Kristen Mueller

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