Egg freezing: A work benefit?

Two leading technology companies, Apple and Facebook, are funding their workers or ‘partners’ to have their eggs frozen for future IVF. This is already covered by Facebook’s employee benefit plan, and Apple plans to introduce it in the 2015. Both companies will be offering a US$20 000 benefit for reproductive technologies including egg freezing, surrogacy and IVF.

These companies have been accused of offering egg freezing so female employees can focus on their work and leave the family until later. That’s certainly how many are seeing this move, including some who think it’s a good thing, as well as those who see it as exploitation. This is still a problem from the career point of view. After the age of 35, the success of using frozen eggs drops. And that’s still well before most careers peak.

But that is the least of the problems. Egg freezing will invariably lead to IVF, and IVF is very wasteful on human life. With current success rates, less than ten percent of embryos that are created survive to birth. Those that do survive suffer higher rates of abnormalities than children conceived naturally.

The process of egg freezing as a ‘benefit’ is a troubling development in modern parenting. It changes the attitudes and motivations of parenting. Children normally come from the loving embrace of their parents. This physical act of love causes a child to be born from love of their parents. With frozen eggs these babies start life in a plastic dish after a commercial transaction. And increasingly these babies are being born to people who aren’t their biological parents. So children will be seen less as a gift, and more as a product or a right. Either way the child becomes a means to an ends, with parental satisfaction becoming more important than respecting the dignity and rights of the child.

One fertility expert expects egg freezing to become standard for professional women. At US$10 000 to US$13 000 a time and US$500 a year for storage it could be a lucrative business. However, fertility experts recommend freezing at least 18 eggs. It might require two or more egg retrievals to collect that many eggs. For egg collection, the woman undergoes weeks of hormone injections followed by an invasive procedure to remove her eggs, many more than she would naturally release. This is risky for the women. So the temptation will be to try maximise the number of eggs from a single retrieval, which increases the risk of this potentially dangerous and invasive procedure. When a woman chooses to use frozen eggs, she will find that her choice of family size is greatly restricted. She might only have enough eggs stored to have one or possibly two children. The option to have more children later is probably gone. So egg freezing can become a family planning program too. Effectively a one or two child policy.

These companies also cover surrogacy too. So reproduction risks becoming something that professional women contract out. This is because by the time most careers are hitting their peak, a woman’s fertility has dropped to the point her chances of having a baby survive IVF are very low without a younger surrogate mother.

So Apple and Facebook’s ‘benefits’, substantially change family and parenting. Little regard is held for the lives of the children before birth. They become just another item on the ‘bucket list’. The link between the love of parents and the love of the child is removed and little regard is held for the life of the child before implantation.

And they call this a benefit?


Young people and porn

Anti-pornPope Paul VI predicted in Humanae vitae, “that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires.” This prediction might have seemed far-fetched in 1968 when the encyclical was released, but we now have ample evidence that it was completely correct.

Two Dunedin university students have been in the news over their attitudes to women and their bodies. One thinks that university students should have the right to access pornography through the University of Otago computer network. He says it doesn’t make sense ‘to have the university interfering with what you are doing in your private time.’ This is a very common appeal to personal autonomy. However, the internet connection isn’t their own. It’s the University’s connection, which is available to many students at their halls of residence.

The University doesn’t just filter pornography, it filters file sharing sites too. It provides the connection to help the students in their studies. It’s pretty obvious that pornography isn’t going to help a student. I’ve heard of marriages destroyed by pornography, and family homes that have had to be sold to pay for online pornography debts. Filtering of internet content isn’t unusual in New Zealand. The connections of 75% of the population are filtered for child pornography.

The second student has been in the media over his private Facebook page with featured explicit pictures of local women, posted without their knowledge or permission. The initial response of the police was, “These kinds of sites are not necessarily unlawful, but we do appreciate that they can cause significant upset and social harm.”  Now the police are now encouraging victims to contact them. The University has come out strongly against the now removed page, and is taking disciplinary action.

The images on the Facebook page were only possible because these pictures are being taken and shared with boyfriends. Here the boyfriend seem to think that they have a right to these explicit pictures, or are pressuring their girlfriends into supplying them. The recent celebrity phone hacking scandal has shown how common it is for young women to share ‘intimate’ photos with their boyfriends. Is it coercion, fear of losing boyfriends, or the women buying into the lie that their body is just another commodity that they can use to get what they want? Whatever it is, it’s the boyfriend’s lack of reverence that is driving it. The celebrity, Jennifer Lawrence made the comment about stolen explicit photos she took for her boyfriend, “and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you”.

Another recent trend is ‘upskirt’ photography. Men use hidden cameras at low level to take ‘upskirt’ photos of women in public places. Fortunately New Zealand courts have been prosecuting perpetrators. This is in contrast to a recent Texas legal decision that has decided that this form of photography is a constitutional right. This is similar to the Dunedin students claim that he has a right to pornography. Obviously the Texas court thinks freedom in photography is much more important than the rights of those being photographed.

This is in contrast to a recent French decision on a young man who photographed not women, but Paris landmarks, from a camera on a flying ‘drone’.

He was convicted.

Obviously our society has decided that New Zealand and Texan women are worth a lot less than the photos of French monuments.

Jennifer Lawrence calls the distribution of her photos a “sex crime”. Before contraceptives were accepted, everyone would have agreed with her.


Stem Cells in Queenstown


A recent news article reports that a regenerative medicine and research centre is planned for Queenstown. While the current therapies offered by those involved are all from adult stem cells, the involvement on Dr Samuel Wood from San Diego is troubling. He and his company, Stemagen, are known for human cloning to create human embryonic stem cells. Samuel Wood headed the team that created the first human clones. All 5 were clones of him, but they were only allowed to develop to the blastocyst stage before they were destroyed.

The centre planned for Queenstown will be using existing stem cell therapies. These are based on the patient’s own adult stem cells. These can be used without fear of the patient rejecting the cells, as sometimes happens with organ transplants. But they are also planning to do research, and that is where the association with Dr Wood is worrying.

Dr Wood’s company continues to research human cloning and human embryonic stem cells from those clones. But he depends on human oocytes (eggs) to generate his clones; and it’s proved difficult to find egg donors. New Zealand represents a potential source of egg donors; but while it might be legal, it’s currently not legal to pay donors here. This would make it difficult although not impossible to do his research. Although that might soon change, the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology have suggested that the “Compensation levels” for gamete (sperm and egg) donors should be increased.

This is a very concerning development. Egg donation is a highly medicated and invasive process that exposes the donor to significant risks. Queenstown attracts young people because of the adventure sports in the area. The wages aren’t that good and the cost of living in Queenstown is high. It would be disturbing if the Ministry of health allowed a situation where young women in New Zealand could be put at risk of permanent health problems for a short term financial gain.

We shouldn’t allow compensation for egg donation in New Zealand, and we certainly do not want to become the embryonic stem cell capital of the Pacific.

However, the proposed regenerative medicine centre for Queenstown does show the difference between adult and embryonic stem cells in medicine. Embryonic stem cell therapy remains a dream. But adult stem cells are being used in medicine right now. The research money that has gone into using embryonic stem cells to cure Parkinson’s disease and repair spinal cord injuries hasn’t cured anyone. Worse still, embryonic research has taken money from other research programs which were much closer to human trials.

But the real toll of embryonic stem cell treatment is the human toll. Women are reduced to donors, at risk to themselves. And the embryos created as treated as biological research material that can be destroyed to generate the hope of a cure. Hardly the way to treat the youngest and most defenceless humans.


The Numbers game

couplelovebabyOne question that frequently comes up in parenting circles is ‘how many children is the right number?’ I’ve always thought it is an odd that in a pluralistic world, people would think there would be a one size fits all family.

There is a lot of advice on the subject, and for those of us with more than three children, a lot of unwanted comments too. I should have seen it coming when our third child was born, and one of the first comments was, ‘Wow, you have a large family now’. We didn’t stop at three, and the comments didn’t stop either. After our fifth, I started getting less comments, with most people sighing and shaking their heads. I think they had given up on me as a lost cause. My wife’s experience was significantly different. The comments and odd looks haven’t stopped.

These comments on family size are one of the few personal criticisms that is still socially acceptable. If you comment negatively about someone’s sexual orientation, you will be shunned from polite society. Similarly for commenting on someone moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage. And yet making humiliating and hurting comments about the number of children good parents have is fair game. ‘She’s too young’, ‘She’s too old’, or ‘Are you addicted to babies?’ Most mums of large families could easily fill a book with the comments that they have received.

And governments get in on the act too.  Some countries have decided the ideal family size, and either encourage through public policy, or legislate their ideal number. Generally this number is one or two. A number is set under the influence of the population control lobby. There is a terrible toll on human life due to forced or coerced abortion.

But here in New Zealand, the decision is the parent’s, but there is certainly social pressure. Back when I was at school, there was great concern about overpopulation. When I grew up I was going to be stepping over bodies wherever I went, and it was certain that there was going to be widespread starvation. We now recognise that famine is caused by distribution problems, generally due to wars. And as for stepping over people to get anywhere, our biggest population problems include widespread loneliness, and the coming demographic winter.

So the academic reasons for limiting family size never really existed. What is left is social and economic.

Housing a family is expensive, and there is a growing expectation that all children should have their own room. The expectations for what a child should own are getting unrealistic. Some schools dictate each child should own a tablet or laptop computer. Every teenager expects to have a cell phone, and usually a smartphone. Even state schools have suggested donations and all manner of activity fees.

So the faithful Catholic couple has to live in a world that is hostile to the idea of being generous with the size of their family. Here the Church makes the most modest demands, and these are for the benefit of the couple and their family.

The Church asks for generosity, and what newly married person does not want to be generous with their love for their spouse? The church asks that their loving gift of self to each other is complete, and does not selfishly hold back fertility. What newly married couple plans selfish motives in their love? Here the Church goes even further to help the couple. She encourages natural fertility regulation as a means, for serious reasons, to avoid pregnancy for a time. So the Church proposes means to avoid pregnancy without entering into a contradictory act. That is where they appear to giving themselves fully, but at the same time they limit their gift of self by withholding the very part of that gift that takes love beyond the couple. That being their fertility. And it’s children that take the loving gift of self between loving spouses, and multiply that gift beyond the couple.

And finally the Church trusts the married couple to make decisions about when they are ready for each child. The guidance she gives in no way determines a one size fits all number of children a family should have. They are free to decide, based on their circumstances, whether to, as one Catholic women described to me, “Just plan our family naturally”. Or alternatively wait until circumstances have improved.

In no way does the Church impose on the married couple, rather she gently proposes her teachings for the good of the spouses. If they both choose to follow the advice, marriage is elevated to a state of living a poetry of love. This is in profound contrast to the selfish and utilitarian motives of the world around us.


Ebola, an unnecessary epidemic


A few years back I attended a seminar by a colleague who had worked as a volunteer dentist in a hospital in Uganda. Conditions in the hospital weren’t great. She frequently worked out in the open air to get enough light to do basic dental procedures. Any 30+ year old school dental clinic in New Zealand has a light the dentist can position so they can see what they are doing. This hospital obviously didn’t have one.

She was told to bring all the surgical gloves she would need for her stay. The hospital didn’t have them. I’m guessing that many medical personnel in New Zealand would have no idea how many gloves they would go through in 6 months as they are there just to use. In Uganda they are really needed. There were many HIV positive people using the hospital at the time. She told the heart-breaking story of counselling a women with AIDS about the risks of having a tooth extracted. She was in pain and wanted the tooth out despite the risks. Days later she was dead. An infection from the extraction had killed her. These stories were common in her talk.

Hospitals all around Africa lack much of the basic equipment we take for granted. And for health care workers personal protective equipment is vital. Gloves, aprons, face shields etc. These are the basics that health care workers routinely use in New Zealand, and most developed countries. There is a culture of using them, and they are readily available.  Because of this, we can handle flu epidemics, SARS and plenty of other outbreaks of infectious diseases.

By comparison to these, Ebola isn’t that hard to quarantine. People are only infectious when they have the symptoms of the disease, and it’s only spread through direct contact with bodily secretions. An Ebola outbreak in New Zealand would be easier to contain than flu or SARS. And the basic equipment to protect health care workers are already present in our hospitals. While there are risks to healthcare workers, they would be less than with other infections they have dealt with.

The situation in Africa is very different. Some hospitals even lack running water. Personal protective equipment as basic as disposable gloves are luxuries in many areas. Their scarcity makes it almost impossible to have a culture of good barrier nursing.

There are many factors behind the current Ebola outbreak in Africa. The most important is the presence of a natural reservoir for the disease. There are cultural practices with burying the dead. There is a mistrust of the government in some places. And many of the healthcare workers in the areas currently affected have never dealt with Ebola before. But healthcare workers shouldn’t be getting sick. Sixty have already died, including one of Sierra Leone’s most respected doctors.

Governments are now responding and basic health equipment is starting to get to the areas that need it. Charities have been on the ground the whole time caring for the sick and dying, in conditions that put themselves at great risk.

We have to look hard at the role the developed world has played in it. A lot of ‘medical’ equipment has been supplied to Africa in the past. Even barrier equipment. But nothing that would help with the current epidemic. We have been supplying them with condoms for years, and telling them that they need to use them. It’s not the barrier for this epidemic. There isn’t a lot of hard evidence that they have ever stopped any epidemic. And we have supplied a lot of other contraceptives too. Apparently these are more important than running water. Are condoms more important than having enough needles so they can use one per patient, instead of reusing them, which still happens in some parts of Africa?

For too long we have been happy for modern contraception to be available everywhere, but do nothing for basic healthcare in Africa.

We have had the chance to do something about the problem. There have been many conferences on population and development. They tend to spend a lot more time talking about reproductive health than about development. There has been a push to make abortion a human right, following the old slogan “Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare”.  How do you make any medical procedure ‘safe’ in a hospital with a dirt floor, and no running water?

African slaves contributed much to the wealth of both the British Empire, and the United States. Before the West was taking African’s as slaves, the East was doing it. Africa hasn’t had a fair break in centuries. Now the developed world is obsessed with getting contraceptives and abortions in Africa. You would think that we desperately wanted there to be less Africans in the world.

Now thanks to Ebola, that morbid desire is coming true.

We owe Africa real help with their medicine and their development, not this imposition of a culture of death.


The STD superbug



For the last 60 years, we have enjoyed a period where most infections have been easy to treat. That time could be coming to an end.

I should know, I’ve worked in the area of antimicrobial drug resistance. It’s a constant race with the bugs. We develop a new antibiotic, and after a while, we see the first signs of resistance appearing. Then the resistance spreads, until finally that antibiotic becomes useless. Then it’s time to move to the next antibiotic, if one exists. Earlier this month the Herald reported that this is happening with Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the cause of gonorrhoea. And there are no more antibiotics left to treat it.

This is a concern because of the poor advice given about STDs. Often STDs are described as being easy to treat or cure. That’s not consistent with the advice about infectious diseases from outside the ‘sexual health’ area. How often do hospitals advise visitors to stay away if they are sick? Yet in the ‘sexual health’ area, the advice is to just use condoms. That would be like the hospital saying, ‘come at visit no matter how much you are coughing and sneezing, just wear a face mask”.

Anyone in public health would see that as irresponsible.

But the ‘just wear a condom’ advice is given particularly to young people who are consistently the worst at using condoms, and who are the most vulnerable to catching STDs.

The rates of gonorrhoea have been dropping for teenagers in NZ, as have been the rates chlamydia and abortions. This could well be because young people are having less sex and fewer partners. It’s a trend that should be encouraged. Living a chaste life is the best protection against all STDs. Not just gonorrhoea. That includes other STDs like HPV, which can continue to spread even with consistent condom use. Chaste living also protects against any STDs that we don’t yet know about.

Fighting microbes isn’t fighting a fixed target. New species of microbes turn up from time to time. New strains of the old bugs emerge all the time. Sometimes more virulent, sometimes less. The one constant feature is that the drugs that we use to treat them become useless in time.

With gonorrhoea, this started with penicillin and tetracycline, and then fluoroquinolones. Ceftriaxone is the last drug left. And last year there were reports of resistance to ceftriaxone in Auckland and Waikato. If one strain acquires high levels of resistance to all these drugs, it will become untreatable. It’s probably only a matter of time before that happens. Then our oldest protection against STDs will become our only protection: Chastity.

So why are there no more antibiotics left? One of the main reasons is economics. It costs a great deal of money to develop any drug. If the drug is a contraceptive, and going to be used daily for decades, the drug company can get its development costs back. If it’s an antibiotic, and only going to be used for a 2 week course, the chances are recovering development costs aren’t very good. So the forces that rubbish chastity and push contraceptives onto our society are the same forces that tolerate the harm done when a chaste life is abandoned.

It’s called the culture of death.


Life affirming ultrasound

Ultrasound PhotoI recently had the experience of sitting in on a 19 week pregnancy scan. For my wife and I it was the first chance to see our new child and as such, we were both looking forward to it.

For many couples, the first pregnancy ultrasound is the first bonding experience they have with their new child.  Before the days of ultrasound, a mother’s first bonding to the new baby was started when she first felt the baby moving, but increasingly, the ultrasound is the first experience that mothers and fathers have with their new child.  This is recognised by medical researchers. It’s also probably been a factor in society’s increasing recognition of the humanity of the pre born child.

Forming this relationship between parents and the child is important. The strength of the bond will affect many outcomes for the child, particularly for the child’s education.

I have personally found a great deal of difference between sonographers.  I’ve had the privilege of seeing Shari Richard at work, and seen her infectious enthusiasm for the unborn child, and the positive effect it has on the child’s parents.  Few sonographers can match her enthusiasm.  I’ve seen other sonographers at work, including one working on me, although she wasn’t going to find a baby and wasn’t looking for one!  They differ greatly in the way they interact with parents about their new baby.  The most recent sonographer we had always referred to our child as ‘baby’, e.g. “This is babies head” etc.

But this isn’t always the case.  We had a scan in a previous pregnancy when the sonographer became very quiet.  Later we found out the reason – she had found a medical problem with our child.  Although it was potentially very serious, a couple of surgeries fixed the problem before it could do any serious damage, and our child now enjoys excellent health.

But why the difference in the response of the sonographer?  Our baby didn’t stop being our baby because he had a medical problem. We certainly didn’t love him any less.

But sonographers and other medical professional are influenced by abortion.  Abortion is considered a solution to many birth defects, so it’s natural for sonographers to moderate their enthusiasm for the baby during scans.

But this could affect the start of the formation of the bond between baby and parents. Crisis Pregnancy Centres have known for a long time the benefit of an expectant mother seeing her baby by ultrasound.  It encourages the bond to form between mother and child.  But ultrasound can be used in a way that doesn’t encourage this bonding.  Clinic profit motives and abortion quotas can affect the way ultrasound results are presented and interpreted.  A recent study of 15 500 women attending Planned Parenthood abortion clinics showed that viewing ultrasound images had very little effect on the mothers decision to abort her child.  It’s hard to imagine the ultrasound technicians in these abortion clinics wanted to present the humanity of the pre-born child and facilitate bonding between mother and child.

Similarly, using ultrasound as a search and destroy mission to eliminate less than perfect is not a good way to encourage bonding. It’s important for the sonographer to show the beauty and humanity of the pre-born child.  This is the start of a relationship that will last a lifetime.  It’s the most important relationship, and it deserves a good start.  Children do better when there is good bonding with their parents.  It’s here that the sensitivity to the minority that have abortions, affects the rest of us – and our children.

It is one of the ways that abortion affects us all.