Apps, Ads, and Sitcoms


The phrase “there’s an app for that” just got a whole new meaning. British researchers have developed an iPhone app to help infertile couples calculate the success of in vitro fertilization.[1] This isn’t the only odd place IVF has popped up lately. This past season the television show Rules of Engagement has followed Audrey and Jeff in their struggles to have a baby, not your typical sitcom fare. IVF didn’t work for Audrey, but now Audrey and Jeff are expecting twins with the help of their friend as a surrogate.

You may also have noticed commercials for infertility clinics on the evening drive home or in women’s magazines. Many of these ads target the emotions of infertile couples by promising high pregnancy rates, accompanied by footage of happy couples holding their healthy newborns. IVF isn’t just for the wealthy. One bank in New Zealand made headlines for their television ad offering loans for IVF. The ad showed a previously sad couple who gave birth to triplets.[2]

Is the commercialization of IVF really the best answer for infertile couples? Most popular depictions of infertility treatment tend to treat IVF rather glibly, failing to mention the difficult challenges. IVF is expensive, costing about $12,000 dollars for a single round of treatment. Since it often takes three, four, or more rounds of treatment to become pregnant, the total cost can reach well over $100,000 dollars. It’s not unusual for couples to take out a large loan or mortgage their house if their insurance policy does not cover IVF.

IVF is emotionally exhausting and physically painful. Women must give themselves daily hormone shots to stimulate the release of many eggs for harvesting. Ten percent of these women develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome which causes abdominal pain, swelling, and nausea. In severe cases, the woman must be hospitalized and can suffer life-threatening complications.

IVF commercials show happy families with twins or triplets, a common occurrence with IVF. What they don’t show is the risks for the mother and her babies. Children from a multiple pregnancy are usually born premature. They are at higher risk of serious health and developmental disabilities. IVF ads, naturally, ignore other painful realities. One is the devastating scenario where the woman gets pregnant, but miscarries. Even with IVF treatment, many couples are unable to become pregnant.[3]

Over 60,000 infants are born each year in the U.S. following IVF treatment.[4] Regardless of ethical concerns about the pursuit of IVF, as Christians we recognize that God is the author of each one of these lives, even if technicians, shots and petri dishes are involved in their conception. But, the marketing of fertility treatment fosters a culture that looks at these children as a commodity to be bought rather than a precious gift of life. We must never lose sight of the personal risks and complexities involved in creating a new human life.

Infertility is no joke. IVF should not be reduced to a punchline on a sitcom or a slick advertisement. Children and their families deserve better than that.

[1] Kate Kelland, “Odds of an IVF Baby? There’s an App for That,” Reuters Jan 4, 2011 (accessed April 24, 2011).

[2] Jared Yee, “IVF Band Ad Sparks Criticism,” BioEdge, December 3, 2010, (accessed April 24, 2011).

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, 2008 Assisted Reproductive Technology Success Rates: National Summary and Fertility Clinic Reports (Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010), 6.

[4] Ibid, 13.


Everyday Bioethics Audio Commentary Album Art