The Savages' Wrong Embryo Transfer and What We Can Actually Learn About IVF
The headline on MSNBC read “Woman Implanted with Wrong Embryo,” which begs the response: “Media Distracts with Wrong Headline.” It’s not just the misuse of the word “implant” instead of “transfer,” which overpromises science’s capabilities (and regardless of the you say to-mah-to, I say to-may-to debate we’ve had over the years about improper vocabulary, my stance is that this is important because it is just one more way misinformation about infertility is spread to the general public. Embryos can only be transferred, not implanted, hence why IVF is not a sure thing despite what some people believe when they tell you that “you can always do IVF!”), it’s that once again, the general public isn’t getting a story about what has been happening in clinics across America 364 days this year–what they’re hearing is the one case that happened instead of the thousands of success stories.
My heart goes out to the two couples at the center of this situation. I cannot imagine the position the Savages are in, going through IVF, emotionally focused on creating a life that they would raise and discovering that through someone else’s mistake, they were pregnant, but their two choices were to either terminate or carry to term for another couple. It’s literally impossible to imagine.
Yet I take issue with this thought: “They are telling their story in the hopes that no other couple ever has to go through what they have endured.”
The reality is that telling their story does not prevent human error. This could happen again. Every clinic across America could think about it every second of every day and it could still happen again because humans make mistakes. Even machines make mistakes. It isn’t the happiest thought in the world when you’re trusting your body to a doctor, but prior to this point, clinics never operated in a willy-nilly fashion, leaving unlabeled vials on the counter.
My clinic was merticulous, labeling everything with a number and cross-checking every gamete that exited the body with the owner. My husband had a number on a card he held, the semen sample had a number on it, and they would read off the numbers, over and over and over again, triple checking that even with an IUI, the correct sample was used. And my clinic is not special. This is happening every day in every clinic across America. They have protocols, they have safety nets, they have systems.
And with every safe guard in place, it still happened.
It’s not that I don’t believe that Americans should hear this story and discuss it. By all means, it is newsworthy because it is outside the norm. The problem is that the average American isn’t having that thought drilled into their head. With IVF barely on their radar, they hear yet another tale of IVF gone wrong, treading on the heels of Nadya Suleman. The message they will take away from this is not that IVF is a godsend for millions of Americans (not all of the 7.3 million American diagnosed with infertility will utilize IVF or even IUI, but those who do are thankful that procedures exist that can circumvent medical issues that impede conception), but that once again, IVF is dangerous. This is what y’all get when you go playing G-d and messing with nature.
If I owned the airwaves, I would tell Americans this:
Procedures such as IUI, IVF, and ICSI, are necessities–not choices–for people with certain medical limitations who wish to build their families. That fertility treatments are not evil or selfish or prone to error any moreso than medical procedures such as blood transfusions, organ transplantation, or hernia surgery. When humans are involved, mistakes can happen, as much as we hope and pray that they don’t and have every right to ask for compensation when human error rather than medical realities affect our lives.
That 7.3 million Americans are currently diagnosed with infertility and while it may not be life-threatening, it is certainly lifestyle threatening. Infertility is not caused from waiting too long to procreate or stress or not praying hard enough–infertility is an umbrella term for a series of medical issues that can affect men or women (infertility is about 40% male factor, 40% female factor, with the remaining 20% comprised of a combination of factors or unexplained infertility) who wish to build their family.
And that while other options for family building do exist, it is no one’s place to tell another person how they should build their family any moreso than it would be appropriate for you to decide or even suggest to someone else where they should live, who they should marry, what job they should hold, or any other lifestyle choice. No one enters into treatments lightly, without having researched options and weighed choices.
That there are around 3 million children created via IVF walking around on this earth right now, and that if we’re going to tell the story of the Savages, we need to also balance out the news by reminding the public that in all but a handful of cases, IVF fails not due to human error, but to the body’s error. And that when it succeeds, it creates children who have even gone on to build families of their own.