The IVF Generation

by | 16 Jul 2017

There has been so much great fertility press over the last couple of weeks that today I want to write about what other people have written.

The stream of announcements and articles is partly because of the ESHRE conference that took place in Geneva at the beginning of July. ESHRE – which stands for the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology – was unknown to me until relatively recently but I now know that it is one of the biggest gatherings in reproductive science in the world. Breaking news at the conference this year included new evidence about the male biological clock, and the real reasons for the exponential growth in egg freezing.

Next year – very excitingly – we’ve been invited to take a mini version of Fertility Fest – my arts festival about the science of making babies – to the ESHRE Conference in Barcelona. Yes, I’m dreaming about the tapas, but I’m also thinking about how the arts can best contribute to the agenda.

It will be the 40th anniversary of the first ‘test tube baby’ Louise Brown next year and one of the things that’s been uppermost in my mind is how it felt then and how it feels now to be a child of science. I don’t think we’re talking about it enough. When Louise was born there was no question that she didn’t know she was made in a laboratory – it was worldwide news. But IVF is now so ubiquitous, a lot of people don’t even inform their children that they spent the first few days of their life in a petri dish. If you’re one of the IVF generation does it matter to you that you were conceived by your dad pouring over porn in a Producing Room? Do you care that your mum spent weeks (maybe years) pumping herself with drugs never really looking at the label and thinking about what they might do to you in the future? Or is that we just don’t want you to know? I am certainly not judging anyone for doing these things in their pursuit of parenthood – I did them too – but it doesn’t mean that I don’t think we need to talk about it more.

And so to another article that was in the Guardian yesterday – about a fertility doctor who it’s thought may secretly have fathered 200 children. The story centres around a Dutch woman who made the decision to undergo IVF on her own with donor sperm. She was assured by her doctor that the donor would be traceable by her children (a daughter and then a son). However, what he didn’t say to her was that he’d developed a habit of donating his own sperm.

It’s still not clear whether this doctor was her donor. He died a few months ago, aged 89, and resisted paternity tests. But there is now a legal challenge to try and find out the truth. Many people argue that a child’s right to information about where they came from should take precedence over a donor’s right to stay unknown and, besides, it’s becoming easier to trace your donor whether they want you to or not. It’s another question for the IVF generation that I think they have a right to demand us to discuss.

I founded Fertility Fest to explore all these questions and more about the science of making babies. I know that artists can do it brilliantly and uncompromisingly. That’s why having a platform like ESHRE next year is so exciting. Maybe we will start making the news!

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