Just when I thought it was safe to go back to my office at East Coast Fertility, a little over 5 months post Octomom, I was confronted once again with shocking news. This time it was a record breaking 12 embryos implanted. Eight is alarming and wrong, a dozen just five months later makes me wonder how such a horrific result could be possible. Who let this happen?
Octomom was a result of IVF with an embryo transfer of six embryos. This far exceeds the number that the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) has recommended as the limit. Physicians have known for many years the dangers of multiple pregnancies and have worked steadily to formulate evidence‐based guidelines for the number of embryos to transfer in IVF cycles. The current rate of triplets in IVF cycles nationally has dropped in 2005 to only 2% of cycles. At East Coast Fertility our triplet rate has been below 1% since 2002 and not one of these occurred from transfer of more than 2 embryos..
However, the Tunisian woman who is expecting six male and six female babies conceived using gonadotropins in combination with insemination. Unfortunately, one does not have the same control with insemination as you do with IVF. As many eggs as is stimulated by the gonadotropin injections can implant with intrauterine insemination (IUI) or without the benefit of retrieval of the eggs as one performs as part of the IVF procedure. With IVF one can limit the number of embryos transfered to a woman’s uterus. Insuance companies do not typically cover IVF but are more likely to cover IUIs. However, if one considers the cost of multiple pregnancy; including hospitalization for mother and babies born prematurely requiring the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and care for babies born handicapped, it would be a lot cheaper for insurance companies and employers, the government and society to cover IVF and have the control to prevent these high risk multiple pregnancies.
The dozen babies happened because the safer alternative, IVF was not performed. Gonadotropins without IVF are dangerously risky due to this lack of control over how many eggs may fertilize and implant. Society, the government and insurance companies in partnership with employers discourage IVF yet encourage gonadotropin therapy without the protection of IVF. They are at fault since they deny women coverage of IVF services. If IVF was covered by their insurance, physicians would not need to administer gonadotropins in such a dangerous and risky way. Perhaps gonadotropin treatment without IVF should be illegal or at least have very strict regulations regarding its use. Again, if IVF is a covered alternative who would not choose the safer more successful treatment?
That brings us to regulating how many embryos to transfer as Octomom went through IVF with transfer of six embryos. At East Coat Fertility, a financial incentive is offered to patients to transfer a single embryo. Cryopreservation of embryos is offered for free as well as storage for up to 1 year for patients in the Single Embryo Transfer Program. In addition, patients may return for their frozen embryo transfers for free until a baby is born. Patients are encouraged by this program not to put all their eggs in one basket. Success rates with a fresh single embryo transfer with IVF at our program, is nearly 50%.
If IVF were a covered service as I recommend to avoid the dangers of uncontrolled gonadotropin use without IVF than we need to regulate how many embryos are transferred. The SART recommendations regarding the number to transfer should be law to prevent such aberrations as Octomom from happening. There is flexibility built into the recommendations taking into account critical factors such as patient age and embryo quality. One can even factor in past experience.
I believe it is not until we discourage the use of gonadotropins without IVF by offering IVF as a regulataed covered alternative will we eliminate risky multiple pregnancies. Until then, all of us including society, the government, insurance companies and employers are to blame for letting these dangerous multiple pregnancies occur