What do we say about Annagret Rattnigk, recently in the news, who has just had quads at the age of 65? She already had 13 children and she only become pregnant because her then youngest daughter wanted a brother or sister. Well, she has them now — three new brothers and one sister!
I don’t think we can say anything in a moral sense. If the German welfare state can afford it and if there are enough girls in the family who can help Rattnigk care for the new arrivals they’ll have a happy existence, one imagines. Mind you, this type of child birth is not to be encouraged — nor did the German doctors do so in her case! — she had to go to Ukraine to have IVF done — because the babies were born in the 26th week of pregnancy and vital development only occurs in the last few weeks. In due course, the children might well be found to be handicapped in one way or another.
Rather excessively in her case, the number of babies born otherwise to women over the age of 50 has more than doubled in this country in the past three years. This is part of the growing contingent of women who’d been persuaded by women liberationists in the last few years to develop their careers and then realised almost too late that what they really wanted was children and then, via IVF treatment, managed it before they were too old.
IVF is one of the growth industries of today, and is probably going to be resorted to increasingly in the coming years even by otherwise fertile women of child-bearing age. The reason for this is to prevent genetic diseases in the children — or at least prevent as many as possible of the most serious ones. This can be done because, before an externally fertilised egg reaches the 8-cell stage, one cell can be removed without harm and its DNA examined. Out of a batch of fertilised eggs, if one is found that is free of a likely serious disorder then it can be re-implanted in the mother.
There are two main sorts of inherited genetic disease. One sort is due to a single mutational disorder — a so-called dominant mutation — which can be present in either the father or the mother. In some cases, the disease doesn’t present itself until after the child has grown up and become a parent himself or herself. Some of these diseases can sometimes be carried in a family line without revealing itself every generation. If, however, it’s suspected then this is a very good reason for either parent being tested before they plan children or for IVF to be carried out. In this case, two out of every four fertilised eggs are likely to have the mutation, and two will be entirely free and can be re-implanted.
The other type of genetic disease — caused by what is called a recessive mutation — is when a child receives two copies of the mutation, one from each parent. In this case, during IVF treatment, one in every four of a batch of eggs fertilised externally will have a double mutation and can be rejected, two in four will have only one copy of the mutation, and one in four will be completely clear and can herefore be selected.
Up to 5,000 genetic dieases have aready been identfied and there are very likely several thousand more to be discovered. The majority of them are very rare indeed — one in many thousands or tens of thousands of individuals — but some may be only one chance in fifty or one in one hundred. Though the chances are still unlikely that a child will inherit both copies from any particular couple of parents — say one in several hundred — many women in the future may want to have IVF treatment simply to give themselves better reassurance because there are so many genetic diseases. It’s a gruelling process but it may still be thought worthwile.
Some clinics examine for 20 of the most common genetic diseases and others up to 100. In time, IVF will probably not be so gruelling and the number of diseases examined for will steadily rise to higher numbers no doubt. But this is an expensive procedure and is likely to be taken up disproportionately by the better off — those in the increasingly prosperous networks that lie in the top 15% or so of this country’s population — and probably similarly in other advanced countries. Thus this growth industry may well be taken up by those who are already in better health than the rest of the population (see Matthew 13:12)