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In vitro fertilisation: Harris, Haley lock horns over Supreme Court ruling

It is critical to understand how an IVF treatment can physically and emotionally affect the parties involved (Photo: iStock)

By: Dinesh Sharma

A few days ago, the Supreme Court of Alabama said that “fertilised frozen embryos are babies.” This kicked up another tempest that was already brewing on the campaign trail around the issue of abortion and the Dobbs decision, which last year took away the rights of American women to seek an abortion freely.

Nikki Haley, the only Republican female presidential candidate, immediately said, “Embryos, to me, are babies.” Since she conceived her children through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), she seemed to pull back on her earlier statement and suggested that it is a private decision for parents to make.

Nikki Haley

Democrat vice president Kamala Harris called the Alabama Supreme Court decision “outrageous and unacceptable” and an overreach by the Republicans to take away the rights of women, who have been treated as second-class citizens from the founding of the republic.

Today, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism accept all forms of assisted reproduction technologies, while Orthodox Jews may differ on third-party involvement.

On the other hand, IVF is totally rejected by Roman Catholicism, while Protestants, Anglicans, Coptic Christians and Sunni Muslims accept most assisted reproduction methods that do not require gamete or embryo donation.

This debate will rage on, while advances in medical technologies can pose a challenge to traditional notions of religion.

The psychology of parenting suggests it is a complicated decision for adults to have a baby today. Reproduction is simultaneously a deeply biological, sociological, and cultural milestone for most families.

But, of course, it varies radically from society to society, depending on the level of medical or technological advancement, local legal strictures, and women’s rights movement in different communities.

Kamala Harris

No one knows this better than parents who cannot naturally conceive a baby. Today, IVF makes it possible for parents who struggle with infertility to have a baby. Many parents will go to the ends of the earth to have a child, but it comes with a roller coaster ride of emotions.

Couples who undergo the IVF procedure may feel a range of emotions: frustration, anger, despair, guilt, jealousy, excitement, hope, sadness, or happiness, as per a Canadian fertility clinic.

According to a recent review in Social Science and Medicine, “Common reactions during IVF are anxiety and depression, while after an unsuccessful IVF, feelings of sadness, depression, and anger prevail. After a successful IVF treatment, IVF parents experience more stress during pregnancy than ‘normal fertile’ parents.”

Being prepared is the most important coping mechanism. It is critical to understand how an IVF treatment can physically and emotionally affect both parties involved.

The failure of IVF treatment can be devastating. Grief is real for every couple who has experienced a failed IVF treatment. The psychological impact cannot fully be comprehended; 95 per cent of women and 64 per cent of men experience depression after the first round of IVF failure.

“Rates of stress, anxiety, and depression among IVF patients are higher than in the general population. If the level of infertility-related stress is higher, IVF success rate is lower,” according to a recent study in Plos One.

In the Alabama case, it was an accidental destruction of embryos at a fertility clinic by a patient who walked into the cryogenic nursery, freeze-burned their hands, and dropped the fertilised embryos. This led to legal action by the parents against the clinic; even though the embryos were “a few days old,” the couples felt they were wronged by the destruction of the embryos of their future reproductive careers.

Dr Dinesh Sharma

Since overall fertility has been declining in the US, it has become a highly charged political issue for conservative Republican groups that promote family values and anti-immigration laws.

With the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, the politics of IVF has thrust the right to defend women’s bodies as a central issue, notwithstanding that almost 80 per cent of Americans surveyed have said that IVF is “not a moral issue” and “morally acceptable.”

(The author is the director and chief research officer at Steam Works Studio, an education-tech venture in Princeton, New Jersey, and adjunct professor at Fordham and NYU, NYC)

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