infertility ethicsYes, you read the title of this blog correctly. No, I’ve not lost my mind. And even more stunning, NO, this is not fiction. An Illinois Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE) has received approval from the Illinois Health Facilities and Service Review Board to locate an infertility clinic in downtown Naperville, Illinois. The location is zoned for business use, which includes medical facilities, and the local zoning commission unanimously approved the plan last month. As part of the routine planning process, the attorney for the RE appeared last week before the Naperville city council to get approval for parking, signage, and setback from the road.   The meeting, however, turned out to be anything but routine. Sixteen residents showed up to ask the city council to not approve the request because they were morally opposed to in vitro fertilization.

Mary Kizior (college senior): “By its very nature of buying and selling, IVF procedures are treating human embryos as a commodity or an industry where the women who donate their eggs are merely the suppliers. Knowingly or not, this is an industry that preys on the financial vulnerability of my female peers.”

Mary Beth and Mike Brummond (infertile couple that believes in-vitro fertilization is immoral because it takes away a child’s dignity): “This evening the City Council is not addressing questions simply of zoning, planning and property use. It’s consenting to a particular world view for the people of Naperville. Will you choose a world view in which a child is not procreated but manufactured?”

And then this threat from Matt Yonke (assistant communications director for the Pro-Life Action League): “This will be an unpleasant thing dragged into the middle of Naperville, and it will stay here as long as the clinic stays here. There will be constant protests [if you move ahead with the clinic.] You might want to tell the Apple Store [also located in downtown Naperville] to think about looking for a new location if that’s something that concerns them.”

One councilman, Bob Fieseler, was swayed by the protest. He said he not only has moral concerns, but doesn’t want to draw protests to Naperville. “I don’t think that’s the right place to have it, and I think we’re making a huge mistake. … We’ve got to ask ourselves is this a preferred use? Is this right for our community? I’m convinced it’s not.” The City Council agreed to table the issue to look into the matter further. It will return to the agenda April 3.

Oh dear! What is happening here? In vitro fertilization has been around as a treatment for infertility for 30 years, with over four million children in the world, and 800,000 children in the U.S. alone, owing their existence to this procedure. Over 150,000 IVF cycles are performed in the US each year. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Dr. Robert Edwards, for his work developing IVF as a treatment for infertility. People object to all sorts of medical procedures for all sorts of reasons, but should the voices of a few govern the availability for all?

Quite a few years ago when I had more time and fewer kids I volunteered to canvas my neighborhood to raise money for one of the national cancer research/treatment organizations. While most of my neighbors politely listened to my spiel and threw a couple of bucks into the envelope, one neighbor, Marcy, gave me an earful. Her mother had died a few years back after a horrible battle with cancer made all the worse by the chemotherapy used in treatment. Marcy was vehemently opposed to the use of chemotherapy believing it was oversold to vulnerable cancer patients when there was little hope for success, robbing them of any quality of life they may have left. Not only would she never agree to chemotherapy for herself, she would never support any organization that promoted its use, and actively spoke out against its use whenever she had a chance. While Marcy is right that there are some real problems with this treatment, and I fully support her right to refuse it, I pray that her objection would never encourage my elected officials to vote against a cancer treatment facility being located in my town since I may very well choose to use this treatment if diagnosed with cancer.

While blood transfusions have some real problems (overuse by surgeons in order to lessen hospital stays, possible exposure to blood borne pathogens and diseases that we cannot yet screen for, etc.), and are opposed by some groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I pray that my elected officials would never use their objections, no matter how vocal, to prevent a hospital nearby from giving me a blood transfusion if I chose to receive this treatment.

While organ transplantation have some real problems (ethical issues about how organs are assigned, concern about undue pressure on newly bereaved family members to consent to donation, etc.), and is opposed by some groups such as the Shinto who believe that injuring a dead body is a serious crime, I pray that my elected officials would not use their objections, no matter how vocal, to prevent a hospital nearby from giving me a transplant if I chose to receive this treatment.

And likewise, while in vitro fertilization has some real problems (creation of more embryos than will likely be needed, doctors transferring too many embryos, etc.) and is opposed by some groups such as the Catholic Church and some Right-to-Life groups, I pray that my elected officials and those in Naperville will not use their objections, no matter how vocal, to prevent an infertility clinic from locating nearby so that I may avail myself of this treatment.

Ms. Kizior has every right to object to soliciting egg donors, and she can work to educate her peers about her perception of this exploitation. (Note, however, that only a small percentage of infertility treatment involves donor eggs.) Mr. and Mrs. Brummond have every right to choose whatever treatment they are comfortable with for their disease. (Note that it is possible to utilize IVF without creating excess embryos, although it may be prohibitively expensive.)  They can also choose to adopt. It’s a great choice for many people, including me. But I hope the Naperville City Council will not use their objections, no matter how vocal, from preventing others from access to the treatment they choose for their disease.

Image credit: marcus_and_sue