We normally give nature short shrift, but IVF could be storing up problems for the future.
A few years back, in a book called Everything Conceivable, on the subject – you've guessed it – of infertility treatment, the author, US journalist Liza Mundy, said the unsayable about IVF. If a man isn't able to have children, she suggested, perhaps he ought not to be having them. An inability to father children may be an excellent way of stopping men with dodgy genes from passing them on. Or, as she put it, "Genetic infertility is nature's way of making sure the same mistake does not happen twice. Genetic infertility is nature's levee, if you will, holding back a flood of chromosomal mishaps."
Well, we normally give nature short shrift over here, particularly when it comes to the subject of people being able to have children, pretty well regardless of where they're at – in their 60s, gay-and-lesbian, single, you name it. But whether we're creating problems in the future hasn't featured much in discussions about infertility.
Now there is a new Anglo-German study from London's Institute of Child Health, which bears out the concerns of other experts about the wisdom of a technique for circumventing male fertility problems, called ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection), which involves injecting sperm directly into an egg. That includes sperm that would be also-rans in a normal conception.
Boys conceived by this method were more likely than those conceived naturally to have shorter fingers – apparently men with ring fingers the same length as their index finger tend to have fertility problems. (It's one way for couples to while away their Valentine's dinner – comparing finger lengths.) In other words, thanks to IVF, infertile men are begetting infertile sons. Who may, thanks to IVF, be able to beget more.
And, as Liza Mundy gloomily observed, if they do, "infertility would be magnified, like compound interest". On the downside, the human race could die out. On the bright side, it would make the population experts, who attribute global warming to population growth, happy.
And if you thought that it was just a problem for boys, think on. Another study, this time from St Andrews and Edinburgh universities, found that by the time a woman is 30, only 12 per cent of the eggs she was born with remain. Cue for Bridget Jones-style angst. Then again, since women are born with about two million of them, it sounds like plenty to me.
Read more: www.telegraph.co.uk