April 5, 2024

RFK Jr’s vice-presidential pick is a vehement critic of IVF 

IVF could be a major issue in the 2024 US Presidential campaign. So it’s interesting that the main independent candidate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, has picked an outspoken critic of the industry as his vice-presidential running mate. 

Nicole Shanahan, a 38-year-old attorney, Silicon Valley philanthropist and tech entrepreneur, and former wife of Google founder Sergei Brin, has a long history of denouncing the IVF industry. 

 “I think that there has been a very big missing category of medical services,” she told The New Yorker last year. “Many of the I.V.F. clinics are financially incentivized to offer you egg freezing and I.V.F. and not incentivized to offer you other fertility services.”

Outside of Silicon Valley, Shanahan is little known. But according to Politico, she has been a prominent backer of research into helping women having children into their 50s and exploring no-cost interventions to help women conceive, like exposure to sunlight.

“It became abundantly clear that we just don’t have enough science for the things that we are telling and selling women,” Shanahan told the Financial Times in January: “It’s one of the biggest lies that’s being told about women’s health today.” 

“I’ve spent the past five years funding science to understand the environmental factors that impact women’s reproductive health because these have gone largely ignored,” Shanahan told Politico. “IVF is a very expensive for-profit business, and many of these clinics are owned by private equity firms that are not invested in the underlying health of women. What I care about is informed consent, and not letting corporations take advantage of us.”

And in an essay for People Magazine in 2022, in which she detailed her split from Sergey Brin, she said, “I believe IVF is sold irresponsibly, and my own experience with natural childbirth has led me to understand that the fertility industry is deeply flawed.”

Shanahan’s views are unpopular both with feminists and Biden supporters. “Junk science,” Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All.

“Reasonable people could have concerns with bioethics, or a lot of us have concerns with how a lot of science is marketed and mass produced, right?” Timmaraju told Politico. “I’m sure there’s a tiny little kernel and rationale behind all of this. But at the end of the day, IVF has been a long-established reproductive health technology, and Nicole Shanahan, bless her, is not a medical expert.”

Criticism is unlikely to silence Shanahan, who conceived her daughter naturally after trying IVF. “I try to imagine where we would be as a field if all of the money that has been invested in IVF, and all of the money that’s been invested into marketing IVF, and all of the government money that has been invested in subsidizing IVF, if just 10 percent of that went into reproductive longevity research and fundamental research, where we would be today,” she said in a webinarhosted by the Buck Institute in 2021.