The New Specialty - Infertility


The New Specialty -- Infertility

We were recently sent a new book for review titled The Infertility Book: A Comprehensive Medical & Emotional Guide. I had a gut level aversion to reviewing it, so I'll explore some of the possible sources for my discomfort, instead. This is just one of many books published since the late 80's on infertility, and other media, women's magazines in particular, have run numerous articles on the new "disease," infertility.

It is estimated that 2.4 million couples are infertile, yet the incidence of infertility in the population has not risen since 1965 - it remains around 8% of all women between ages fifteen and forty-four. Between age 35 and 44, there is a naturally higher incidence of infertility, about 20%. Now that many more women are opting for education and career before childbearing, there is a shift toward later and more problematical pregnancies.

At the same time that all the hand-wringing over infertility is going on, another segment of the population is accused of becoming pregnant irresponsibly. But of course, they are the youngest and most likely segment to become pregnant without fail.

One of the clues to this enigma of some people trying desperately to become pregnant, another group trying desperately not to become pregnant, is affluence. The economics of infertility are breathtaking. The average complete workup runs from $8,000 to $70,000, much of it now generated by Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), which includes in vitro infertilization, gamete intrafallopian transfer, zygote intrafallopian transfer, tubal embryo transfer, and frozen embryo transfer. Then there are the egg donors and surrogate gestational mothers. More and more convoluted ways to produce babies. A grandmother has now produced her own grandchild: What does it all mean?

I'm afraid that what it all means is that the medical establishment has another "cash cow": infertility. The specialization, technology, and high cost of treatment makes it another example of why our national health care costs are astronomical. Besides the highly specialized surgical procedures, technology, like ultrasound, and close office monitoring required, these "patients" are big-time drug takers, giving the pharmaceutical companies another lucrative market. One commonly prescribed drug for infertility, Clomiphene, is chemically related to DES, and has unknown risks for women and their offspring.

For that small patient population of women who are unsuccessfully attempting to become pregnant, they might well consider a different approach. It seems logical that poor diet would influence such a fundamental function as conception, so proper nutrition would be a good place to start. A hair analysis for both would-be mother and father might show mineral deficiencies such as zinc, known to be essential in reproductive processes. The rising incidence of Chlamydia in young women and lack of diagnosis and treatment is another overlooked cause of infertility. The general environmental exposure to thousands of chemicals known to be immune-suppressive, as well as carcinogenic; all these unhealthy aspects of modern lifestyle would surely impact on reproduction.

And then there is the changing role of women in society, in the definition of family, the explosion of biological research, all factors in making infertility the hottest new specialty in town.

Whether one chooses to look at infertility as another lucrative medical specialty, or as just another consequence of our unhealthy lifestyle and environment, it is exploited on the one hand and ignored on the other. There is a broader perspective, expressed by Gandhi, which might allow us to view all children as our own; to see that all babies born are healthy and cared for. Then perhaps there would not be such an almost materialistic pursuit of parenthood, as though it is another "right." There are unlimited ways to contribute and have a full life without parenthood as most people find out; it's only a small number of "patients" being milked, but exploitation by the medical establishment seems to be ongoing.

Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients.


By Irene Alleger

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