– by Gwen Quinn, LIVESTRONG Fertility Advisory Committee member, and Sarah Arvey / Emily Eargle, LIVESTRONG Staff
The September 11 New York Times op-ed piece, “Selling the Fantasy of Fertility,” by Miriam Zoll and Pamela Tsigdinos sheds light on assistive reproductive technology (ART) as a financially successful industry that may be profiting from the “false hope” that ART provides to people who desire to have a biological child. It is true that while ART has improved and advanced over time, success rates can vary, resulting in emotional and physical distress for many people. We share the authors’ anger at the notion that those who choose to stop seeking treatment may be labeled failures or quitters.
These labels bear striking resemblance to the stigma found in the world of oncology: from the devastation and shock experienced when hearing “it’s cancer” to the offer of an array of standard treatments and clinical trials that have varying success rates and are difficult to fully understand. Those cancer patients who seek no treatment or alternative cancer treatments are not failures or quitters either. The important point is that infertility and cancer patients, alike, should be offered the opportunity to make an informed decision about their care in order to take control of their journey.
Young adults with a cancer diagnosis may have their fertility impaired from the cancer treatments they undergo. These same young adults can benefit from learning about their infertility risk and using fertility preservation techniques to store sperm, eggs, embryos, or tissue, which may offer the chance of a biological child for them in the future. Research suggests that those who use fertility preservation prior to treatment have a better quality of life, reduced remorse, and less guilt than those who did not. This is true even among survivors who have not attempted a pregnancy or who are not sure if they want children in the future (http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/early/2013/05/24/JCO.2013.49.2678.full.pdf).
Studies of cancer survivors show that some survivors who used fertility preservation will not become parents. Some will not be able to afford the cost of future ART procedures, others may not survive their cancer, and others will experience the same failed attempt at parenthood through technology on which the authors report. Still others will achieve a pregnancy naturally and not need their preserved gametes. But, studies of survivors also indicate that information about and access to fertility preservation tools helps patients take back control of at least one aspect of their cancer diagnosis. When dealing with a cancer diagnosis there not many opportunities for patients to be in control.
Technology, especially reproductive technology, is both a blessing and a curse. ARTs present a chance to have a biological child and yet they are at best 50% effective and the financial, emotional, and physical costs are high. Nonetheless, they do offer hope in the form of empowerment; an opportunity to attempt to fulfill a dream. The opportunity to dream and to take concrete action towards fulfilling a dream is priceless.