In September, 2012 53-year-old grandmother Cindy Reutzel gave birth to her daughter’s baby, and said she “would do it again.” Reutzel volunteered because her own daughter’s uterus was cancerous and had to be removed. So her daughter and son-in-law took Cindy up on her offer to host their embryo. Whether their newborn little girl will have a genetic predisposition toward uterine cancer is as yet unknown. Days after the birth in Sweden, doctors touted the first mother-to-daughter womb transplant as successful. The latter smacks of science fiction as the realization hits us: A woman might soon be able to give birth from the same womb that was her own pre-birth environment. ABC News called this womb transplant the “latest fertility feat.”
Miriam Zoll, an international public health and reproductive rights educator, is author of the book, Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High-Tech Babies, in which she questions the ethics driving these baby-making feats that are now a “multi-billion dollar global business.”
In a previous essay we discussed ambitious women who freeze their eggs in order to enable themselves to produce progeny into their forties and fifties. In our book, Enough of Us, we discuss the notorious “Octomom” and the doctor who implanted eight embryos into her womb at a time when she already had six children from a previous in vitro fertilization (IVF). Although this doctor’s license was revoked in 2011 for gross negligence, he had not really broken any laws. “The truth is, there are hardly any laws now in place to break,” writes Zoll. “The federal government requires only that clinics inform the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of their success rates,” even though “multiple births lead to increased risks for cerebral palsy, hearing and visual impairments, cognitive delays and other traumas” related to a crowded womb environment.
The CDC suggests that 1.2 million women in their reproductive years struggle with infertility-related issues. In 2010, preliminary data from the CDC shows that “nearly 150,000 ART (assisted reproductive technologies) cycles took place at 443 clinics in the United States, which led to 47,090 live births” during that year.
More and more Americans are turning to ART procedures for a variety of reasons. Those who are infertile use them as a way to “build a biologically linked family.” Other couples hire surrogates to do the uncomfortable work for them. They call on the technology for a convenient way not to suffer through the morning sickness and bodily changes associated with pregnancy.
According to author Zoll, “Many do not realize the extent to which they are participating in a vast experiment . . . they surrender their bodies, sexualities and emotional lives to the doctors, syringes and drugs that might lead them into parenthood. They sign up willingly because they believe—and the U.S. media reinforce their belief–that science and technology have finally outsmarted Mother Nature.”
We can’t ignore the compulsion of some women and couples that fuels the fertility medicine industry’s impetus to come up with ways to produce children at any cost. They are the would-be parents who are frantic to give birth to their own babies—one, two, three, or more children who are part of their bloodline. Few give much thought to the possible (and often probable) consequences of this rebellion against nature. Even fewer seem to realize that with seven billion-plus on earth right now, there certainly are Enough of Us.