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Infertility Treatments May Cause Birth Defects

For infertile couples, technological advances in reproductive assistance have been life-changing in their quest to conceive. One of the most popular methods, in vitro fertilization (IVF), involves extracting an egg from a mother and fertilizing it outside the body. While the method often meets with success, recent studies have highlighted the increased risk of birth defects associated with IVF conception.

2005 Study Finds Birth Defect Risk for Assisted Reproduction

One 2005 Canadian study initially raised issues about the safety of IVF, revealing that the chance of a birth defect is higher among babies conceived through the use of assisted reproductive technology. The researchers, who presented their findings at a scientific meeting, looked at 2005 birth data from an Ontario database. They identified 870 births, 320 of whom were conceived through use of fertility medications, 180 conceived through intrauterine insemination and 370 who became pregnant by in vitro fertilization.

Babies born after fertility treatments were compared to births resulting from pregnancies that were not the result of reproductive assistance. The overall incidence of birth defects in the assisted-reproduction population was 2.62%; it was just 1.87% in the group of births resulting from naturally conceived pregnancies.

When the assisted conceptions were analyzed by reproductive technology, birth defects in the IVF group occurred at a rate of 2.97%, compared to 2.66% for the intrauterine insemination group and 2.19% for fertility medications. The most common birth defects were gastrointestinal, followed by heart defects.

2012 Study Finds 2% Higher Incidence of Birth Defects for IVF Babies

A recent study from researchers at Adelaide University shed further light on the potential risks of IVF, showing that the risk of birth defects for couples using IVF is 7.2 percent, compared with a 5.8 percent risk for babies conceived naturally. Furthermore, when sperm is directly injected into an egg (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) there is a 9.9 percent risk of birth defects. "The findings will make couples more worried, but it's part of our consent process that we advise them of all the risks," he explained.

To reach its findings, researchers linked a census of more than 6100 assisted conception births to South Australia's 308,974 registered births and 18,000 recorded birth defects between 1986 and 2002. The study's lead researcher, Associate Professor Michael Davies, said that although most assisted conceptions turn out fine, the study's goal was to help couples understand the risks of treatments and make informed decisions.

2016 Studies Link IVF to Birth Defects & Childhood Leukemia

In a study published in February 2016, researchers used birth records from Norway from 1984 to 2011, and paired it with the cancer registry. Out of 1.6 million children, their data included 26,000 who were conceived with assisted reproductive technology. 4,500 of them got cancer, 51 of them ART-conceived.

Overall, the cancer risks for children conceived with ART weren’t any higher—but leukemia risks were 67% higher among them, with four times the risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The reason researchers believe ART may play a role in cancer development is that childhood cancer is often caused by embryonic/intrauterine factors.

Another study found that children conceived through ART were 27% more likely to be referred to Early Intervention, a program designed for infants with developmental disabilities. The study accounted for premature births, and the increased risk already accounts for preterm deliveries.

Despite these seemingly increased numbers, doctors are reluctant to dissuade couples from using assisted reproductive technology. For one thing, couples having trouble conceiving are already more likely to have issues to affect a child’s genetics. For another thing, the benefits of ART still far outweigh their risks.

Melissa Bondy, an oncologist and cancer researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, put it this way: “At this point in time, we don’t believe the weight of the available evidence is strong enough to suggest that women should not proceed with ART.” However, these studies do encourage doctors to inform their patients of the risks involved with ART—especially as new information continues to come to light.

With all the available information on the risks of IVF, doctors offering reproductive assistance must inform patients of the dangers of intervening in the conception process. If your IVF-assisted pregnancy resulted in a birth defect and you were not informed of the risks of this process, you may be entitled to compensation.

Contact the birth injury attorneys at Arnold & Itkin today to discuss your legal rights, free of charge.