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November 2, 2005

Letters to the editor is the new blogging

Recently, New York magazine ran an article about a novel form of assisted reproductive therapy that involves freezing eggs instead of embryos. Towards the end, an IVF doctor who does not do egg freezing is quoted:

"I'm not sure Iím positive that itís a great thing," says Veeck-Gosden. "People donít think about the long term. Are they going to be around to see grandchildren? It changes what we see as the makeup of families." Not to mention the fact that "you donít feel the same at 45 as you do at 35," she says. And itís not just energy: Endometriosis increases, uterus and tubal function are compromised, everything suffers with age. "Delaying reproduction just for social reasons," says Veeck-Gosden, "I think we will probably learn some lessons over the next couple of decades about that."

Maybe we will, but as a doctor and researcher, that's not your concern, as my wife Gina points out in a letter to New York published this week.

The attitudes of the doctors quoted in ďStop TimeĒ are extremely paternalistic. Theoretical questions about whether women will be too tired to have children at 45 or whether they will live to see their grandchildren should not hinder the development of this technology. We shouldnít restrict womenís fertility, whether by limiting access to this technology or to emergency contraception and abortion.

Parenthood is one of those jobs for which, almost universally, there are no tests and very few people would want them. No one would question the right of a woman with a genetic predisposition for a terminal illness to have children, even if it meant she might not live to see her grandchildren. Nor would they say that a woman who is tired a lot, whether because she has chronic fatigue syndrome or a job on a sales floor, should be prevented from having kids. One may hold these opinions personally, but few would try to impose them on others, and if they did, it would quickly be pointed out that women with all sorts of issues that make them seemingly unsuitable for motherhood -- poverty not least among them -- become mothers all the time, sometimes with great success. It's hard to imagine a doctor telling a woman desperate to get pregnant that she should rethink because she may not be the doctor's ideal candidate for motherhood, or her family might not be the doctor's idea of a perfect family.

But technology warps people's minds. The fear of the "unnatural" makes even biomedical researchers say dumb-ass things like, "Are they going to be around to see grandchildren? It changes what we see as the makeup of families." No, you know what's changed what we see as the makeup of families? A century of medical advancements that have allowed people to be around to see their grandchildren in the first place. According to an article in the Times last summer, "the likelihood that a 20-year-old these days will have a living grandmother (91 percent) is higher than the likelihood that a 20-year-old in 1900 had a living mother (83 percent)." Was anyone protesting the development of antibiotics on the grounds that too many grandparents in the picture would destroy the traditional family?

Will some children suffer because their mothers got pregnant too old? Most assuredly. Just as plenty of children suffer now from having lousy mothers who got knocked up the old fashoned way. There have always been people who shouldn't be parents for one reason or another, and there always will be. But society's job is to let them make that decision for themselves.

I can't resist pointing out that it should be obvious from Gina's letter -- addressing an issue in the article and critiquing it on its merits -- that she is not a regular reader of New York magazine. Typical readers write letters like the two self-absorbed flakes who think that all that matters is their personal experiences, which can then be universalized. One of the letters doesn't even have anything to do with the article at all. The other is the following, from a woman who apparently thinks the article was about her own decision to persue a career.

Iím married, a feminist, and a successful professional with multiple degrees from elite universities. I spent two fruitless years at a major New York City infertility clinic, with a diagnosis of unexplained infertility, spending $50,000 on multiple rounds of increasingly complex treatments that produced more than two dozen healthy eggs but no pregnancies. Emotionally devastated and physically exhausted, I gave up, did a series of self-designed relaxation and alternative therapies to clear my head, and to my surprise, naturally conceived a healthy child. It became clear that the accomplished reproductive specialists (most of whom were quoted by Wildman) werenít infallible. I should have taken that $50,000 and spent it on therapy to understand why I was burying myself in my career instead of attempting to balance it with a happy relationship.

You see? The solution isn't more reproductive technology, it's fewer power-mad women. If only these ladies would stay home and marry their high school sweethearts, they'd be relaxed enough to pop out spawn on their own (OK, with a little help from reiki). Anyway, there's a logical flaw in this woman's argument: if it weren't for her successful career, how would she afford $50,000 for therapy?

Posted by Daniel Radosh

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