Bioethics Blogs

Bias and the safety of IVF

An article last week on Medscape reported that the results a new study on IVF were announced at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine 2015 Annual Meeting. The president of the ASRM was reported as saying the study findings “provide a lot of reassurance that the kinds of treatment that some couples need to conceive, including in vitro fertilization, are not risky.” However, this statement appears to reflect some bias. ASRM is the professional organization of people who make their living doing IVF. They have a vested interest in showing that what they do is not risky. When the person making a statement is biased it is good to evaluate the evidence for what is being said.

From the statement made by ASRM the study was done by comparing the birth weight and length of gestation between children born by IVF and children conceived spontaneously by the same parents after adjusting for such things as maternal age and parity. The conclusion that they reported was that “our findings suggest that factors inherent in the woman, rather than those attributable to infertility treatments, may explain the lower birth weight and shorter gestation associated with assisted reproductive technology.”

Since one of the significant ethical concerns about IVF is the concern about the risks to the child conceived by IVF, it is important to decide whether the findings of this study actually support the conclusion that IVF is not risky. It seems to me that this study does not adequately support that conclusion. Even if it could be determined that the process of doing IVF does not cause any increase in risk compared to the risk caused by factors present in the parents conceiving the child, the use of IVF may allow parents who are at high risk for having a child who is premature or has significant birth defects to have a child when their risk factors would prohibit them from conceiving a child naturally.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.