Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Lure of Risk

In today's New York Times, Gina Kolata has an article about the health risks children conceived by IVF might face as a result of spending the first days of embryonic division in a petri dish. Her answer: Children conceived by IVF probably have an increased risk of certain genetic disorders, anatomical malformations, and low birth weight for their gestational age.

Almost every pregnant woman I know went through some period when her risks of something really wrong with her fetus or pregnancy was at the forefront of her mind. A test had a funny result, a second test was needed, a week of unknowns followed. Or there were other risks related to birth or medication or early labor or strange symptoms. Some people I know had wonderful endings to their stories, others have endured terrible losses. But pregnancy is risky business. I feel like this story about IVF (in-vitro fertilization) is worthwhile because we shouldn't think we can make human embryos in a lab and they'll just be AOK always and since they' won't be we must ask what can we do to increase the likelihood of those embryos being mostly AOK. On the other hand, talking about understanding the risks associated with IVF and the embryos it produces is almost besides the point because, let's face it, statistics only matter when you're on the wrong side of them. Otherwise, you can't make heads or tails of their importance. And this is what's been nagging me about this article, because it speaks to the desire to have science anticipate outcomes, to get a better result, always, when even nature doesn't always get it 100 percent right. Which is to say there's a piece of this story that is at once humble and lacks humility altogether. But I guess that's science for you, and maybe parenting, too.

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