The renowned Lord Winston of Hammersmith is in New Zealand at the moment visiting schools to educate students about infertility and the dangers of waiting too long to have children. It’s interesting – and a little ironic – that the fertility expert, who pioneered IVF while it was still in its trial stages, is now warning that the rapid advance in reproductive technologies is making people too complacent about having children. He argues that many such technologies are, in reality, not very effective and cannot beat nature or the ticking reproductive clock. In fact he goes so far as to contend that it is often an immoral industry which provides a soul-destroying experience for young couples who are desperate to have a baby and are driven to do things like re-mortgage their houses to afford the hugely expensive treatment.
Interviewed on New Zealand television this morning, he said that he wants to make people more aware of the rapid decline in fertility for women and the general biology of reproduction. He also commented that communities need to better care for people and families so they are supported to bring up children at the right time – something he called a more ‘holistic approach’ than science looking into, for example, better ways of freezing eggs. He also said that stable relationships are extremely important and result in better upbringings for children. It seems that he is now looking back to the root cause for the need for infertility treatment in the first place and emphasising that fertility treatments can only do so much. It is true that, for all its sometimes success, IVF has held out false hope to many couples and has extremely low success rates for women over 35.
Lord Winston, who has also waded into the “God question” in the past, goes on to comment that modifying the genes of human embryos is ‘a very dangerous area’. Again, interesting coming from someone who has been at the forefront of reproductive research. Instead, he argues that changing the environment of the baby in the womb is much a safer and more effective alternative. He suggests that research into what is eaten during pregnancy and the mental state of the mother is much more fruitful in influencing cognitive development, as is good healthcare for mothers – something he says that New Zealand does well.
In a world attracted to ‘quick fixes’ it is encouraging to see someone looking back to the root cause of an issue and taking a holistic approach. If you would like to watch the TVNZ interview yourself, you can view it here.