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Is test tube conception dangerous?

Many couples try to conceive children but are unable to do so because of certain abnormalities involving the woman’s uterus (as in the case of women suffering from endometriosis), ovary (i.e. polycystic ovarian syndrome), fallopian tube (Blockages in the fallopian tubes that disable the egg from reaching the uterus.), and men’s infertility due to low sperm count, and vasectomy, among others.

These genetic and physiological abnormalities reduce the chances of conception. In addition, as a couple ages, more so if the woman is menopausal, the chances of conceiving a child become minimal. For these couples, traditional modes of conception are or have been futile; hence, they turn to ART or auxiliary reproductive technologies to aid them in conception.

In Vitro Fertilization

Attempts at alternative means of conception started in 1966 with experiments involving external egg fertilization were conducted by a gynecologist named Dr. Patrick Steptoe and a physiologist, Dr. Robert Edwards. These attempts failed however with 80 percent lasting only a few weeks.

In 1977, both doctors tested a primordial technique called in vitro fertilization, in which the woman’s egg is combined with the male sperm in a test tube inside the laboratory to be fertilized (hence, the popular moniker: “test tube baby”). Once the egg has been fertilized, it is placed back into the mother’s womb to grow.

The experiment was conducted with Leslie Brown as the subject and was successful. On July 25, 1978, Leslie Brown gave birth to the world’s first ever test tube baby: Louise Joy Brown. Since then, many couples and doctors have followed suit. Statistics show that the U.S. alone accounts for 30,000 IVF pregnancies.

The concept of in vitro fertilization has met and to this day still encounters resistance especially with the Church’s position on procreation. But perhaps the more important question to pose is not of ethics but of health and safety. Is In Vitro Fertilization dangerous? If so, what dangers does test tube conception pose? Who is vulnerable?

Some speculators have cited the possible contribution of test tube conception with errors in genetic imprinting which gives way to genetic defects. Specialists from the Research Institute of Medical Genetics probe the possibilities of ART involvement in genomic imprinting illnesses. Speculations regarding this issue had to do with the incidence of “Large Posterity Syndrome” in animal offspring conceived using artificial impregnation methods and Wideman-Beckwith syndrome in human babies.

Both syndromes resulted in babies twice their normal sizes with multiple pathologies. Various specialists hypothesized that external factors present in artificial impregnation methods influenced the outcome largely. They say that with in vitro fertilization, hormones such as gonadotrophin are injected to stimulate ovulation altering the normal maturity period of the ovum. Specialists have cited this as a possible cause of genomic misprints.

At present, there has still been no conclusive study as to the correlation of ART, particularly in vitro fertilization more popularly known as test tube conception, with errors in genomic imprinting. Medical and physiological professionals are still looking into these issues and have not yet reached a unanimous decision.

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