Response to “Selling the Fantasy of Fertility” NYT 9/11/13 Op-ed


– by Gwen Quinn, LIVESTRONG Fertility Advisory Committee member, and Sarah Arvey / Emily Eargle, LIVESTRONG Staff

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 10.35.04 AMThe 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 (

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.


  1. Mike M says:

    Disclaimer: I am speaking as someone who does not and never has had cancer, and as the father of a baby daughter conceived via IVF.
    To the effect of this article, I hope that there are indeed many cancer patients and survivors who are exposed to the options in front of them regarding fertility and I’m glad to read about the topic in that respect.
    I also concur that no one should be labeled a failure for stopping treatment or shifting strategies for any of these ailments that are so personal and so potentially devastating. That being said I have never heard of such a disrespectful attitude, personally.

    What I cannot understand is the relative absurdity of labeling assistive reproductive technology as a blessing or a curse at all. It is a tool, or perhaps a method, of trying to reach one’s goals. Just as much as counseling, seeking adoption, or just looking for a community of acceptance for a child-free life, each has risks and only a certain probability of being the elusive key to happiness that one seeks. I cannot believe that infertility patients who have the resources to even approach the use of ART are naive to the point of being victimized by any kind of false hope marketed by the industry. Are we not tragically skeptic by and large by nature of our struggles?

    My cousin John stopped fighting cancer before his passing in his early 20s 11 years ago. I accept that this was his empowering choice. I may never understand how he came to that point or what his version of happiness looked like. He had so much life in him and I miss him very much. He deserved to make whatever choices he felt he could make.
    I think when folks are thinking about the future of their potential families, they deserve the right to ignore the stats and choose whatever empowers them. Hope is hope. It’s only false hope if you choose to allow yourself to accept despair as a state of being. Maybe the NYT folks need to redefine what happiness meant to them. Wish you all the best.

  2. Chr Uws says:

    The University of Western Sydney is conducting an online survey on fertility after cancer. Go to Its aussie based but open to all. Share your views.

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