How IVF helps snap society's moral backbone
Published in: Daily Mail
When the world's first test-tube baby was born in 1978, a few lone voices warned that this far-reaching development would almost certainly lead us into uncharted but deep moral waters.
Few at that time, however, could have foreseen quite how profoundly in-vitro fertilisation would help undermine personal responsibility and our acceptance of the distinction between right and wrong.
Quite apart from ethical concerns around the destruction of 'spare' embryos or their use for experimentation, concerns have been growing about IVF being offered by private fertility clinics around the world to women in their 50s or even 60s.
And in Britain, IVF is routinely offered to women who set out to bring a child into the world with no committed father on board.
Now, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is proposing to slide yet further down this slippery moral slope by considering scrapping its age limit on treatment -- along with other distinctions over whom to treat.
Current NHS guidance says all infertile women aged between 23 and 39 should be offered three cycles of IVF.
NICE is proposing instead that infertile women could be granted or denied treatment based on their ovarian reserve - the number of eggs that remain in their ovaries. While this number generally diminishes with age, the rate at which it does so varies with each woman.
NICE says its proposal is an attempt to end the 'postcode lottery' under which access to IVF on the NHS varies wildly from one area to another. But to suggest that using the ovarian reserve would make the system fairer is as perverse as it is muddled.
NICE appears to be arguing that the greater the number of eggs in the ovary, the higher the chance of a successful pregnancy. But a higher success rate has nothing to do with 'fairness'. That would mean it would be 'unfair' to treat women who, one could argue, are in the greatest need because they have so few usable eggs.
Nor does the suggestion bear much relation to logic. Older women are often treated with donor eggs precisely because too few remain in their ovaries. So, what has the decision to treat such women got to do with their own ovarian reserve? Moreover, it is a cruel deception to lead older women to believe that just because they have IVF, they will then be likely to have a baby. Age is still a vitally important factor in determining a woman's fertility.
As her age increases, so too does the possibility that any baby will have a genetic abnormality. And even when donated eggs are used, the medical risks to both mother and baby rise the older the mother becomes.
Last year, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said a woman over 40 was two or three times more likely to lose her baby than a younger mother. As the secretary of the British Fertility Society Alison McTavish has commented, doing specialist tests and investigations on women to check their ovarian reserve would appear to be a 'very expensive way of trying to make the system fair'.
In fact, this proposal has precious little to do with either logic or fairness. It is all about NICE's anxiety not to be sued under Harriet Harman's oppressive Equality Act, which makes unlawful just about every kind of 'discrimination' that the human imagination could possibly dream up.
In other words, it's yet another example of the way in which anti-discrimination dogma simply flies in the face of common sense, increasingly outlawing any difference in the way people are treated regardless of their very different circumstances.
It is driven by near-fanatical belief that it is everyone's 'human right' to be entitled to exactly the same things as everyone else.
But what it means in the case of IVF is that the 'rights' of adult women are granted even if this is at the expense of the children they bear.
This is obvious when IVF treatment enables older women to have a baby. For in addition to the dangers posed by such a pregnancy to the child's health, many older mothers can't care for babies and very young children as well as younger women can. They don't have so much energy, and they are more likely to become infirm or even die before the child reaches maturity.
It is indeed astonishing, given the current obsession with mothers not smoking or drinking or doing anything to put a baby at risk, that NICE is considering increasing the risk that more babies will be born with some kind of handicap or suffer the disadvantages of being brought up by women old enough to be thei r grandmothers.
Of course, many older mothers look after their children wonderfully well however they may have been conceived. And some women have children very late in life through entirely natural means.
But IVF specifically seeks to remedy the distress created by chance. It is wrong to use the wonders of medical science knowingly and deliberately to cause a child to be born into a disadvantaged situation.
The same argument applies to the other crucial way in which IVF is compromising the interests of the children it creates. Originally, fertility clinics were required to consider the welfare of the child who might be born, including the child's need for a father. Now, however, they are no longer required to take that all-important need into account at all.
So what started as an inspiring means of enabling a husband and wife to realise their dream of starting a family quickly turned into yet another mechanism for fragmenting the family unit -- all in the name of 'anti-discrimination'.
Thus, the need to distinguish between remedying harm and actually causing harm has been swept into the bin, along with considerations such as age or gender differences. All that matters now, it seems, is identical outcomes. Anything else is dismissed as 'prejudice'.
So NICE is also considering how to ensure lesbians and single women have the same access to IVF treatment as heterosexual couples. But the fact remains that children ideally need a mother and father to bring them up if they are fully to thrive.
More and more evidence is accumulating that young adults conceived through sperm donation are more confused and isolated, and are more likely to succumb to depression, delinquency and substance abuse than those raised by their biological parents.
NICE is already facing criticism following its calls for pregnant women to face smoking breath tests, for children as young as five to be taught about sex and relationships at school and for GPs to question patients on their drinking habits.
And the way in which health provision should be rationed is itself controversial, calling into question whether the NHS is the best model for delivering services -- such as IVF -- which seem to have rather more to do with the happiness agenda than the nation's health.
But the real problem with the NICE proposal is the dogma of anti-discrimination. This is the key wrecker of our society, whose moral backbone has been snapped in half by this redefinition of harmful, irresponsible or selfish behaviour as 'rights'.
The practice of IVF has become a symbol of this amoral doctrine -- which needs to be rolled back if 'Broken Britain' is ever to be healed.