A story about a 65-year-old carrying quadruplets caused quite a stir on one of my Facebook groups the other day – and surprisingly, this group is made up solely of women who had success after fertility treatments. Some deemed it crazy, some called it irresponsible, some said “meh,” and some said that they supported her right to make her own decisions about her body. Some also felt that stories like these, propagated by the media, just give a bad name to fertility treatments as a whole.
I’m in that last camp. Do I think it’s crazy to have quads at any age, and that doctors have a responsibility to do what is in their power to reduce the risk of having high-order multiples? Yes. Do I think that having a kid at 65 (your own kid, not serving as a gestational carrier for someone else) who you will probably not see very far into adulthood, and who might be burdened with your care at a young age, is cray-cray? Uh, yes. But do I think rules should be made against it? No.
Why? Because cases like this are really, really rare, and if we start down the road of, “Let’s make a bunch of laws that people have to follow when using fertility treatments,” soon enough the reproductive rights that we all enjoy today will be trampled on. And that is not something I am willing to risk. The reason a story like this makes news is that it hardly ever happens. This wasn’t even in this country – it was in Germany. We had to go across the pond to find a story as out-there as this. We don’t need laws to protect against it.
But that’s the thing about the media (which, technically, I’m a part of) – they often don’t care how a story really, in actuality, impacts people; they only care about how people will react to it. Will they click on it if it’s online? Will it grab their attention on TV? This is not responsible journalism – it’s sensationalism. And when it comes to fertility treatments, I’m tired of it.
Stories like this put ART (assisted reproductive technology) in a very negative light. They add fuel to the fire of the anti-ART camp, especially those who are against third-party reproduction (donor eggs or sperm), because this woman used donor eggs. The argument becomes, “See the ethical and moral conundrums that ART brings about? See why it’s bad? See why you have to watch out that it doesn’t go too far?”
This is fear-mongering.
People are afraid of what they don’t understand. As I have said often in this blog, infertility is not something most people understand. Most people don’t talk about it. It is still cloaked in shame and secrecy. The media runs a story like this – or something about the wrong couple’s embryos being transferred during IVF, or Octomom, or a doctor using his own sperm instead of the husband’s, or some other wacky stories like that (notice that I’m not putting links to these stories) – and all it does is confirm people’s fears.
I could come up with lots of news stories about irresponsible parents who had kids the old-fashioned way – but that doesn’t have people saying that no one should get pregnant, does it? So why condemn a whole branch of medicine because of a few wack-a-doos?
These are the stories that wouldn’t make the news, that wouldn’t generate clicks or FB group discussions: The thousands and thousands of couples around the world who now have happy, beautiful, well-adjusted families because of ART and third-party reproduction. It’s not weird. It’s not scary. It’s not unethical. It’s creating a family through love, just like any other.
So please, media, stop sensationalizing fertility treatments. We’re having a hard enough time going through them without you, thank you very much.