Today's NYT ran a piece that describes calls to reduce the number of multiple births resulting from in vitro fertilization efforts. Since the introduction of IVF in 1980, multiple births in the United States have increased by a whopping 70 percent--in no small part due to the fact that many prospective parents choose to implant multiple embryos in the hopes of increasing the odds of a successful pregnancy and birth. Several of us have blogged on other issues re multiples before, too... here, here, here, and here.
The article quotes a few experts who basically say that as the technology has improved, the need to implant "extra" embryos has diminished; but this raises the question of just what a successful IVF result looks like. Is one baby? More than one baby? All the babies the woman wants? And what about the health status of the infant(s)? If carrying multiple fetuses increases the health risk to mom and babies, but the woman wants to "maximize her investment" in the painful and expensive IVF cycle by shooting for triplets, can/should physicians try to dissuade her? On what basis?
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, particularly since fertility medicine is largely a consumer-driven affair. Infertility treatment generally isn't considered medically necessary by insurers and therefore isn't a covered benefit. People who pursue it are paying thousands of dollars--per cycle--out of pocket. Given all that, I wonder whether "the customer is always right" will be the governing rule.