Two doctors in Texas who used a new method of in vitro fertilization with a lesbian couple are claiming it allowed both women to carry the baby at different points during its gestation. But a closer look reveals a risky process with consumeristic roots.
Ashleigh and Bliss Coulter announced last week that they were the first same-sex couple to use the method, called reciprocal effortless IVF, to artificially conceive and deliver a baby, now a 5-month-old boy named Stetson.
For the last few years, lesbian couples have used reciprocal IVF, in which an egg from one woman is fertilized with sperm from a donor, incubated for a few days at a fertility clinic, and then implanted in the other woman’s uterus.
Dallas-area fertility doctors Kathy and Kevin Doody have expanded the idea using a Food and Drug Administration–approved device called the INVOcell, which allows a woman’s body to act as the incubator. They’ve used the method to help heterosexual couples conceive for about half of the cost of traditional IVF, but this was the first time they used it with two women. Doctors harvested Bliss Coulter’s eggs, then inserted the INVOcell with her eggs and donor sperm into her birth canal for fertilization and early embryonic development. Five days later, they removed the device with three new embryos inside, froze two embryos, and implanted one in Ashleigh Coulter’s uterus.
While the new technology allows two women to play a part in IVF, only one woman is the baby’s genetic mother, and only one woman is pregnant. A forgotten father, the anonymous sperm donor, is also involved.
The Doodys—who run the Center for Assisted Reproduction in Bedford, Texas—said they’ve used the INVOcell with about 200 couples, according to CBS News, but hope to use it with more lesbians.
“This is just another example where technology is serving the best interest of adults—the buyers, the purchasers,” Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and a former nurse, told me. Lahl is also the filmmaker responsible for the new documentary #BigFertility. “Nothing in this story seems in the best interest of the child,” she said.
Lahl said the method is a new example of human experimentation on a child who has absolutely no ability to consent—and all of that on top of the fact that IVF is already a risky procedure that overwhelmingly fails.
When asked how she would respond to the argument that these doctors were simply trying to help, Lahl said the story is evidence of how medicine has become a service industry. Instead of agreeing to help this couple create embryos, Lahl argued, the clinic should have said, “There is nothing wrong with your fertile bodies. There is no medical need here to risk this child’s health, and I’m not going to participate in it because that’s not what proper medicine does.”
In an interview with ABC News, a reporter noted the Coulters still have two frozen embryos, which they could use unless they want to do the process again with Ashleigh Coulter’s eggs.
“It’s total consumerism,” Lahl said in response. “‘I want to be the mother now. It’s my turn to be the mother now.’ It’s totally treating the child as a product and we are the consumers buying and selling and picking the ones we want and discarding the two that will probably be left in the freezer.”