There's an interesting article at Slate about a couple of new books on the problems with assisted reproduction (IVF and other techniques).
The main current problem: the number of embryos which are often implanted has lead to a large rise in the number of multiple births, which tend to be bad for everyone (mothers, children and society.) There are also higher rates in IVF children of other odd medical conditions, and no one yet understands why.
The situation in Australia is summarised in a fairly recent Medical Journal of Australia article. It would seem that maybe only 30% of women here try a single embryo implant, and the rest go for double embryo transfer. This is despite the very significant health risks of having twins.
(The Slate article indicates that in America, some clinics may offer to implant 3 or even 4 embryos, which is pretty crazy really.)
I love technology, but have old fashioned views when it comes to reproduction. I can't quite reconcile how a country like Australia can have both an abortion rate of perhaps 80,000 or so per year, and around 5,000 births through IVF. There are clearly thousands of healthy embryos going to waste, while at the same time a relatively small proportion of women are going through expensive, painful and potentially dangerous treatment to have a child that stands a higher rate of illness than a naturally conceived one.
One final, slightly off the wall, point to make. I hope people have not forgotten about the 2001 study which indicated a very strong positive relationship between third party prayers and the success of IVF.
I had wondered why such a startling result was not the subject of follow up studies. However, it seems that the paper was pursued hard by a group associated with the Skeptical Inquirer, who pointed out the generally fraudulent activities of one of the authors. The skeptics attack is explained here. It is worth noting that it is based on guilt by association, rather than establishing how any fraud may actually have been done. (The skeptic's report seems also wrong where it indicates that the Journal of Reproductive Medicine removed the report from its website. It still seems to be there now, as shown by my link above.)
The skeptics also get a bit silly, I think, when they say that the head doctor of the study:
...was investigated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Human Subject Protections, because the researchers never got informed consent from the patients in the trial. Such misconduct is a serious violation of medical ethics and federal rules that were adopted to prevent the kind of atrocities that occurred in Nazi Germany and in the United States during the infamous Tuskeegee Syphilis Study.
Oh come on. What they were studying was something that could only have positive results if successful. Unless skeptics think that there is a risk that God punishes those hopeful women who were being prayed for, this is a pretty trivial issue, isn't it?
I would like to know if anyone else is going to do a similar study, but Googling has not brought up any quick answer to that.
If it was confirmed, it would certainly indicate that, if nothing else, God seems to like babies.