GATINEAU, Que. (CCN) — Women who achieve multiple pregnancies through in vitro fertilization (IVF) are often pressured to abort all but one of the babies, a psychologist told a seminar here March 19.
Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy, a research associate with the Toronto-based de Veber Institute, told the annual Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) seminar the goals of IVF have changed. Initially, success was “an achieved pregnancy.” Now success is defined as “a single, take-home baby.”
In many jurisdictions, IVF involves a single-egg transfer and only one embryo is implanted, she said. “That doesn’t say they fertilize only one — there may well be 15 others, but only one is being implanted that has a higher success rate,” she said. But regulations are fuzzy, and while there are guidelines on the maximum numbers of embryos that can be implanted, there is no enforcement.
Some countries allow up to five embryos to be implanted. What’s happening in clinics across North America is “multi-fetal pregnancy induction,” meaning multiple embryos are implanted, but fetuses in multiple pregnancies are being aborted to ensure one healthy take-home baby, she said.
While pregnancy reduction used to be offered as an option for women facing risky multiple pregnancies, it is now being advised, she said. This pressure to reduce triplets to twins or singletons “permeates” the medical literature. What began as a choice you could make, has now become something you need to do.
“We have this happening in the name of good health,” Ring-Cassidy said. Childless couples are so psychologically desperate to have a child that they buy into the argument, because the fear of losing the pregnancy altogether is very high.
These are men and women who long for children, and reducing a multiple pregnancy to one or two “has a lifelong impact” on their lives, she said. The children who are born “stand as a lifelong reminder” of the child or children they lost through abortion.
Cassidy said the intensity of grieving is severe, whether the “reduction” was done at 10 weeks or 18 weeks. The parents face “conflicting emotions,” and ambivalence. They often become consumed with fear of losing the child who remains alive.
“They feel abandoned because of their decision,” she said. “It’s not something they can talk about.”
Some women or couples attempt to distance themselves from the decision by having the doctor choose the fetus to abort, she said. Thus the detection of a fetal abnormality might be met with rejoicing rather than despair, because that seems to justify the decision that selection reduction was the right thing to do because there was a problem with the child.
They think allowing the child with a fetal abnormality to be aborted will produce less guilt, but a study on abortion for that reason show families suffer very much, because they wanted children. “The psychological damage is quite high indeed.”
Going through the process of IVF is extremely traumatizing if the treatments are unsuccessful, she said.
No one is telling the couples they should not do this, she said. The doctor is always willing to work with a couple to get a pregnancy.
Having a child becomes the prime focus and many marriages do not survive the roller-coaster of IVF treatments, the disappointment when pregnancies fail to occur, and the effect of drugs trying to trick the body into thinking it is pregnant, she said.
This distress makes them vulnerable to the pressures to reduce pregnancies for health reasons to ensure one healthy take-home baby, she said.