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
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
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
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.