April 16, 2024

The IVF industry must go green

Free fertility treatment should be banned for those making lifestyle reproductive choices to curb climate change.

Free fertility treatment should be banned for those making lifestyle reproductive choices, such as  sterilisation reversal or single motherhood for fertile women. And fertility clinics should be subject to carbon capping schemes, in a bid to help curb climate change, argues a theologian in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Only those who are medically infertile through no fault of their own should be eligible for government  funded treatment, suggests Cristina Richie, a theology PhD candidate at Boston College, Massachusetts.  

Richie singles out fertility treatments because  they not only produce a carbon footprint as a result of the resource they consume, but also create a  carbon legacy.

And she points out in an accompanying podcast: “Assisted reproductive technologies are typically  given in places with enormously large carbon footprints.” The US, for example, is the world’s second largest carbon emitter, producing 20 metric tonnes of  carbon dioxide per person per year, which multiplies by a factor of 5, with the birth of a child, she explains.

In her paper she argues that the environmental impact of medicine and health has largely been  ignored, and that the ecosystem is already overtaxed.

While ART is not the most pressing environmental issue, nonetheless, it has created 5 million new  lives since the late 1970s, and the number of babies born using these methods is rising steeply, she  argues.

“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 advocates that the fertility industry adopt a carbon capping scheme, either by making a voluntary but legally  binding commitment to meet emissions targets or by working to cut its total emissions, rather like the  UK National Health Service has done, she suggests.

And it ought to make free fertility treatment available only to those who are medically infertile, not to those who are making “lifestyle” choices, such as people who have voluntarily undergone sterilisation, single fertile women and fertile same-sex couples.

She insists that she is definitely not saying these groups should not have  children, but they could go green and adopt.

The adoption process needs to be made easier, and society also needs to change its attitude to  childlessness, she says. “Retrenchment in all areas of life is the key to slowing down or halting carbon emissions that lead to  climate change. For each child made through medical intervention, a carbon legacy results,” she  concludes.

Commenting on the paper, Iain Brassington, of University of Manchester, agrees that all areas of life should  be assessed for their ecological impact.

“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, its environmental impact, and its legacy to the future?”

Ms Richie’s headline-grabbing article builds on her interest in the ethics of “bodies that do not bear fruit”. After finishing her PhD, she plans to research the value of a child-free life from an evangelical, feminist and ecological perspective. After that, she plans on working on the connections between meat eating and the sexual oppression of women and consumption and the morality of obesity.

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