Is There Really A Link Between IVF And Autism? You Decide.

By Karen Weintraub
Guest Contributor

At what point does health journalism veer into fear-mongering?

This week, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study looking at the health of babies born via a fertility treatment designed to give sperm a boost.



As with many studies published in the prestigious journal, the media coverage was extensive, with headlines in Businessweek, Reuters, Newsday, The New Republic, Huffington Post, and many other outlets. Most of the headlines trumpeted the study’s finding that a form of in vitro fertilization increased the risk of autism and intellectual disabilities (defined as having an IQ below 70 and limitations in adaptive behavior).

That is factually accurate. But was it right?

I’ll lay out the details of the study, and let you decide.

Out of 2.5 million children born in Sweden from 1982 to 2007, the study looked at the 30,959 born with the help of fertility treatments.

It found that IVF, in general, didn’t increase the risk of autism any more than conventional birth; but it slightly increased the risk of intellectual disability. But media coverage focused on autism worries, and the one form of six techniques examined that appeared to be riskiest: a procedure in which sperm is surgically removed from the man and then injected into the egg. This is relatively rare (representing only 3 percent of the studied births between 2003 and 2007, according to Businessweek), but is generally done when the man has weak sperm or is unable to ejaculate it, perhaps because of a previous vasectomy.

In babies born of this technique, the risk of developing intellectual disabilities was slightly elevated – 93 children out of 100,000 had low IQ’s compared to the expected 62. Continue reading

IVF Insanity: Is Your Donor A U.S. Citizen?

(Nina Matthews Photography/flickr)

This story is unbelievable.

USA Today reports on a bizarre policy inequity for women who give birth abroad. Apparently, the children of American women who conceive through IVF are not considered U.S. citizens unless the egg or sperm donor involved is an American citizen.

Read the story of Chicago native Ellie Lavi who gave birth to twin girls in Israel — and observe your blood pressure rising:

She found that the U.S. State Department did not share in her joy when she went to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to apply for citizenship for her children.

An embassy staffer wanted to know whether Lavi got pregnant at a fertility clinic. She said yes and was told that her children were not eligible for citizenship unless she could prove that the egg or sperm used to create the embryo was from an American citizen.

“I was humiliated and horrified,” Lavi said. “We’re talking about the children I gave birth to. Of course they’re my children.”

The incident points out what critics say is a glaring inequity in U.S. citizenship regulations. Continue reading

A (Nobel) Moment To Celebrate IVF

You probably know several wonderful young people who wouldn’t be here if not for the medical wonder of IVF, or in vitro fertilization. I do. At last count, about four million children worldwide had been conceived as “test-tube babies.” So I felt my heart lift in the pre-dawn morning when I saw that the Nobel prize in medicine had gone to a developer of IVF, Robert G. Edwards. And the story of his work makes for some good reading in the Nobel press release here. Funny to think that the practice used to be ethically controversial…

IVF began in Britain with the famed baby Louise Brown. but in the United States, the first family to have an IVF baby was here in Massachusetts, and we recently celebrated our own landmark: the country’s first test-tube baby, Elizabeth Carr — now Comeau — who grew up to be a journalist, gave birth to a child of her own — the low-tech way — and wrote about it in the Globe here.