I hate to keep bringing this up, but North Dakota is well on the way to passing several personhood bills which would severely restrict all reproductive services to women in the state. I promise to do some posts soon that go back to the original purpose of this blog: namely time-management for the busy professional family woman, and women’s wellness. But for now, PersonhoodUSA continues to pass out talking points that simply must be addressed.
The author of the talking points given to the ND senators by the national organization, PersonhoodUSA, is David Prentice, PhD, who does research for the Family Research Council. He spends most of his time testifying before state legislatures and his background is in adult stem cell research. He has no medical training or experience. The Family Research Council actively opposes sex ed, gay marriage, promotes “intelligent design” (creationism) and disputes the human impact on global warming. In other words, your basic nightmare.
Point 1: “The IVF industry is completely unregulated.” FACT: IVF is not an industry but a medical procedure that is highly regulated by the CDC, FDA, and several medical organizations, including SART and ASRM. The specific treatments and decisions regarding the number of eggs to fertilize, number of embryos to transfer, and disposition of healthy embryos that have not been transferred are decisions to be made between the doctor and patient, with guidelines given by ASRM and SART. These decisions must take into account many different religious and cultural backgrounds, financial and insurance concerns, and logisitical issues, particularly in rural areas such as North Dakota and the surrounding states we serve.
Point 2:” [Personhood bills] mirrors the law that Germany has had since 1990, and an extensive 10-year study showed that German IVF is as effective at delivering born babies as any other country in the world, even those that mass-produce embryos and freeze thousands of them.” FACT: The source of this “study” is conveniently not cited but these laws were rescinded in 2007 because German policies led to 3% of their IVF pregnancies requiring selective reductions for multiples more than twins. German IVF pregnancy rates typically are about 30% while many centers in the US enjoy pregnancy rates well above 50%. Germany has also lost a significant portion of its patients to reproductive tourism, as patients seek centers that can be more accomodating to their needs.
Point 3: “The pain and problems are due to the high doses of hormones used to stimulate large numbers of egg to develop. This bill encourages low-dose or no-dose (natural cycle) IVF, which limits the side-effects.” FACT: Stimulation is a key part to successful IVF. Typically, about 1 in 10 eggs is capable of resulting in a live baby. If a woman produces only one egg per natural cycle (the norm), she could conceivably need 10 retrievals to have 1 baby.
Point 4: “Limiting the hormonal overload means lower cost and fewer complications”. FACT: The bulk of IVF costs are the monitoring of the eggs and the anesthesia, retrieval, and lab fees. These are the same, whether one egg or 20 are retrieved. The only medications that patients could forgo are the stimulation drugs. Ovulation shots, progesterone, and retrieval medications would be the same. Natural cycle IVF is cheaper per cycle, but much more costly in the long run. Frozen embryos allow couples to do repeat cycles for approximately 1/3 the cost of a fresh IVF cycle. Current research is even suggesting that frozen cycles are superior to fresh, with higher pregnancy rates. Going back to natural cycle IVF without freezing is to undo all the medical advances in this field, and return to methods that were used 30 years ago.
Point 5: “If people can’t be paid to be egg and sperm donors, won’t this cripple IVF? NO! This bill only stops the big cash inducements from clinics and egg brokers that solicit young women to risk their health with the high hormone doses to stimulate many eggs.” FACT: Egg and sperm donors are paid for their time and trouble. As IVF is more troublesome, and requires travel to the center, egg donation pays better. Strict criteria are placed on clinics by the FDA and state legislatures regarding egg and sperm donation, to ensure the health and safety of the donors. Most legal challenges to donor egg and donor sperm arise from known-donation cycles, not paid anonymous cycles. IVF risks, while not zero, are minor. There are no known risks to donating sperm (except perhaps, carpal tunnel syndrome). Notice the wording of this bill and how it focuses specifically on egg donors. So why include sperm donors? My view is that this is a thinly veiled attempt to prevent LGBT people from starting families with the use of donor gametes.
Point 6: “What the bill prohibits is weird science, including a ban on using various techniques to make cloned human embryos, or making odd genetically-engineered embryos, or 3-parent embryos, or animal-human hybrid embryos.” Whoa! FACT: IVF is used solely to help people become parents in this country. Freezing of embryos does not kill them and doesn’t promote any of these other pseudo-scientific claims by “Doctor” Prentice. As for “odd genetically-engineered embryos” I can only suspect they are talking about genetic testing for devastating diseases such as Tay-Sachs or cystic fibrosis. I invite any personhood advocate who thinks PGD is a bad idea to sit down and talk with parents who are caring for a child with one of these awful illnesses, regarding how a second child with the same illness would affect their family.
These bills are dangerous because they make harm to an embryo or loss of an embryo a CRIMINAL OFFENSE. The exemptions for these actions to protect IVF are not fully enumerated and the language is ambiguous and self-contradictory. In one sentence, independent life is claimed to begin at fertilization of the egg and right to life is granted at “any stage of development.” In a following sentence, there is no criminal penalty for “life” ending before documentation of a pregnancy. So which is it? Does life begin at fertilization or with documentation of pregnancy? Even this level of legal uncertainty creates a nightmare for doctors and their patients. Jail, huge fines, and loss of license are major penalties, and most doctors won’t want to risk their practices for legally ambiguous language in a bill few can understand. It’s far easier to practice somewhere else.
Personhood is a concept that began in 1869 with the Pope at that time. It is not based on scripture or science. In 1985, when a group of noted reproductive endocrinologists met with a group of 9 prominent Catholic cardinals to discuss IVF and how it would be affected by Catholic doctrine, 8 of the 9 were in favor of IVF and only one was opposed. This one cardinal expressed his concerns to the ethical advisor to John Paul II who urged the Pope to take a position against IVF. That ethical advisor is now Pope Benedict.
These personhood amendments are not supported by North Dakota Right to Life. They are too extreme. They represent the rigid religious views of a very small group, who are attempting to make their views the law of the land. When I testified against these bills before the North Dakota Senate committee, and later lobbied against them with the Senate, the language of the bills’ sponsors was chilling. There was a lot of talk about the glory of being the first to pass personhood, and of directly challenging the US Constitution. They are not doing this for the women of the state. They are doing it for power.
- My letter to the North Dakota Senate (womanmdsguide.com)