Rational reproduction

Natasha Loder in More Intelligent Life:

BabyMartin Varsavsky, a serial technology entrepreneur, takes a radical view of reproduction. “Sex is great, but maybe it is not the best way to make a baby,” he says. This startling proposition is behind his plan to build a network of clinics offering millennials an alternative to the unreliable and unpredictable business of creating offspring the usual way. Varsavsky argues that leaving it to nature is risky, especially when people are breeding later and later (see chart on next page): the chances of conceiving fall, not only for women but for men too. At the same time, the chances of a child being born with Down’s syndrome rise with the age of the mother, and those of a child developing autism or schizophrenia rise with the age of the father. The risks remain tiny, but some people would prefer not to take them.

The technology to improve on nature is developing. Healthy eggs and sperm can be frozen while people are young and stored for use later in life. Freezing sperm is a trivial matter, but freezing eggs requires hormone treatments and minor surgery to extract eggs, which must then be frozen safely and stored for years; later they must be thawed, mixed with sperm to create embryos and implanted. The process can be unpleasant for the women who undergo the treatment, and risky for the eggs, which can get damaged, though freezing techniques are improving and raising the survival rate. The technique was pioneered mainly to help women likely to be rendered sterile by cancer treatments, but there is growing interest in the method as a solution to the problem of the ticking biological clock. Almost 1,000 women in Britain and Denmark were asked about egg freezing in 2014: 19% said they were considering it and another 27% were interested.

More here.