British Pregnancy Advisory Service logo

25 July 2014

UK: IVF accused of contributing to ‘bloated carbon footprint’

Ethics lecturers say single women and same sex couples should be advised to adopt and refused fertility treatment in a bid to save the planet.

A paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics says IVF treatment should be restricted in order to reduce carbon footprint and slow climate change, with single women and same sex couples advised to adopt instead, the Telegraph reports.

The paper, by academics from Boston College, Massachusetts, argues that fertility treatment should only be funded for those who are medically infertile, in order to keep the population down, and to reduce the “bloated carbon footprint” of the medical industry.

Dr Iain Brassington, of the School of Law at Manchester University, said policy makers should think of human reproduction in the same way they think of other processes – such as fracking - which impact on the environment.

In an accompanying commentary he wrote: “If I wanted to frack for shale gas under Manchester, there’d be questions about sustainability, and about whether we should be looking for more and cheaper hydrocarbons given what we know about the environment. So why not ask analogous questions about reproduction?”

Dr Brassington said arguments should be taken further, to examine whether anyone should be given assistance with fertility, given the impact on the environment.

Author Professor Cristina Richie, from Boston College, said free IVF should be limited to those who are medically infertile – and not provided to single fertile women, same sex couples, and those who have previously undergone sterilisation.

Since the 1970s, more than 5 million babies have been created via fertility treatment, with little consideration to the impact on the planet, academics said.

“It is therefore the obligation of environmental policymakers, the ethical and medical communities, and even society to carefully weigh the interests of our shared planet with a business that intentionally creates more humans when we must reduce our carbon impact,” she writes.

Prof Richie said the fertility industry was “just one small piece of the jigsaw puzzle of rampant consumption that leads to climate change” but needed to play its part in reducing the problem.

Dr Brassington, Lecturer In Bioethics and Medical Law at Manchester University, said the concept of a “right to reproduce” should be reconsidered, and suggested a “duty to adopt” should be examined, so that those who seek to have a family should at least think about adoption.

“There’s lots of ink spilled over who should have access to infertility treatment, for sure, but there is a good deal less time devoted to the question of whether facilitating reproduction is always a good thing to begin with.”

Ann Furedi, chief executive of British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said:“To call for infertility clinics to be subject to carbon capping schemes and suggest single women and same-sex couples should have their reproductive choices restricted to save the planet is offensive to the point of being beyond parody. The implication that children born of IVF are a burden not a benefit is a deeply unpleasant one.”

Single women should not get free IVF, say ethics experts. Telegraph, 25 July 2014

What would an environmentally sustainable reproductive technology industry look like? Cristina Richie. Journal of Medical Ethics medethics-2013-101716 Published Online First: 24 July 2014 doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101716

Also read:

Since when were babies ‘carbon legacies’? By Jennie Bristow. BioNews 765, 4 August 2014. 

tweet