I know I’m being sort of scattershot here, but this caught my eye yesterday. It’s a new procedure being introduced in Canada and truly, I’m not sure what to make of it.
Imagine people doing IVF. It doesn’t matter why or who or where the gametes come from. Early on in the process the egg and sperm are placed in a petri dish, basically. Apparently the general practice is to let them be for a few days, to allow for fertilization and initial development of pre-embryos. I guess at that point one examines the contents of the dish and sees what’s what. Viable embryos can be frozen or transferred to the uterus of whoever is going to carry them to term.
Of course, during that period that the eggs and sperm are in the petri dish, they have to be kept warm. It sounds like general practice would be to use some sort of mechanical device–an incubator (or perhaps a warming oven?)
So here’s the new procedure. Instead of that, you put the eggs and sperm in a plastic capsule and place the capsule in the vagina of the woman who is the intended mother. (I identify her this way because I don’t see any reason why she needs to be the source of the eggs. Neither does she need to be the person who will be pregnant.) In this way she can “incubate” (their word, I think) the pre-embryos (if they develop) inside her own body. Then the capsule is removed and the rest of IVF proceeds as usual–examination of embryos, transfer, etc.
There appear to be two reasons offered for why this is a good idea. I want to think a little about each of them. First:
the device may appeal to women “who desire close connection to her own embryos” for personal or religious beliefs and may help alleviate “separation anxiety” by allowing them to carry their early embryos in their bodies for five days.
I gather part of the point here is that conception (by which I think they mean to fertilization of egg by sperm) takes place inside and not outside the body. I guess it is possible that this is important to some people–(and perhaps in the eyes of some religions?) I’ll come back to this in a moment.
Second, and this isn’t really discussed at length, but it’s sitting right there in the pull quote:
“The advantages are the patient has her embryos with her the whole time, and we’re not constantly looking at them”
Let me just say a little bit about the second reason first, because this one rather eludes me. The “we” there must be the scientific team involved in the IVF, I think. I don’t know whether there is any reason people need to look at them during this period, but it seems to me that if there is, then they should look at them, and if there isn’t, then there have to be other ways to keep them from looking at them. Nor do I quite understand what the objection to them “constantly looking at them is.”
So now back to the first reason offered. I suppose what this comes down to is that some women would prefer this, or be more comfortable with this, and it makes whatever ART process they are engaged with more palatable and, I suppose, potentially more successful–if you define “success” very broadly.
While I’m sure it is true that some women will prefer to do this, I’m still not sure what I think about it. In truth it doesn’t seem like very advanced technology–it’s basically just a piece of plastic. And yet the endless drive to sell people more and more makes me slightly uneasy. I’ve never heard of women experiencing “separation anxiety” at this stage of an IVF process and I guess I just wonder whether this procedure offers a solution to a problem or first creates a problem where there wasn’t one.
I have a feeling I’m not done thinking this through, but it is something to chew on for the weekend, perhaps.