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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Signs of the Time

Is it me, or is Time magazine slipping its gears? In the Catholic and non-Catholic circles alike, Time has been recently - and rightly - chastised for its repeatedly bad reporting on the alleged ordination of women as Catholic priests.  Now, here's a real winner of a headline relevant to bioethics: "Building a Brighter Kid: Consider IVF."

The article is about a recent study in the journal Human Reproduction, founded by recent Nobel Prize winner Robert Edwards, who invented IVF. The study claims to show that IVF children scored better than age-matched peers in the same schools on the Iowa Tests used to evaluate and monitor the performance of school children. While I do not dispute that IVF babies may have scored higher on these tests, the investigators found other factors associated with higher test scores, too.  So, it may not be the procedure that results in smarter kids, but other factors that coincide with the use of IVF.

For instance, children also score higher if the parents are better educated.  Considering the cost of IVF, it would be no surprise that those who can afford it are also better educated.  And, considering the fact that achieving a better education (by which is meant more education) is generally associated with the intellectual ability to understand what one is learning (that is, intelligence), one would expect the biological offspring to do better on tests than their peers.

The expert cited in the Time article even noted that the study is not an argument to use the procedure to have smarter kids.

Yet, there is the article's headline: Building a Brighter Kid: Consider IVF.

Look at what this headline does.

Contrary to the data it cites, it draws a causal connection between the use of IVF and the outcome of smarter kids.  That causal connection is nowhere in the study; it is merely a coincidence.  For instance, if you notice that everyone in China has black, straight hair, you might think that it is being in China that causes it.  So, Time magazine could have an article with the title, For a Kid with Black, Straight Hair: Go to China.  Sure, it sounds ridiculous - because it is - but it is precisely the logic Time uses with respect to IVF.

It also reduces the conception of a child to a manufacturing process.  None of my kids were built.  Not a one. They were conceived. Building children reduces them to mere possessions, made to order, constructed, and loved for the features and benefits chosen from a list of options - and not simply because they exist and are worthy of love by virtue of existing.  This is one of the inherent bioethical difficulties with IVF: The reduction of a child to a thing, a thing to be attained, to be made to order, to be seized.

Now, I am all for helping couples struggling with an inability to conceive, but there are better ways - treatments and technologies that have up to four times the success rate of IVF, depending on the specific cause of infertility and the associated treatment.  These treatments enable couples to conceive in the natural way, and I am all for that - and that should be the first route infertile couples take: To detect the cause of infertility and treat it. Remember, IVF is not a treatment - infertility is not properly assessed or treated. It is a child-building procedure, which, by the way, destroys way more children than it brings to term.

Time also encourages the use of IVF, since the title circumvents the whole notion that IVF is for couples who cannot conceive, and dangles it out to even fertile couples so they can go out and purchase a child with the latest options, too.

This is just plain irresponsible reporting as far as I can tell. Either that, or Time is pushing an agenda of some sort. (Ya think?)

And, I have to admit something.  I am a little skeptical of the data in the study itself. A journal founded by the inventor of IVF probably has a vested interest in making IVF look good. At least the conclusions were conservative, given the lack of causal connections between the test scores and the procedure.

I am not surprised that Robert Edwards won a Nobel Prize for his work on IVF.  After giving the Peace Prize out to someone with absolutely no Nobel Prize worthy accomplishments regarding world peace neither before nor since the prize was awarded, I think they really just hand out the prizes to whomever suits their socio-political priorities.

And it seems their priorities and those of Time largely overlap.

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