From the baby boom to the lab
08 Aug 2017 by Nev Haynes
The Matrix (1999) is a science fiction film in which the human race is cultivated by robots in artificial wombs. The fate of humanity lies in the hands of machines, which nourish us and exploit us as a source of energy. Set in the distant future, this film delves into the idea of artificial gestation, conceived as something massive and mechanized. Pretty apocalyptic, that´s the truth.
Louise Brown (Bristol, 1978) was the first “test tube baby”, followed by another five million people who were born thanks to in vitro fertilization. Her parents could not conceive, and the doctors who got the miracle had spent two decades researching ways to help couples with fertility problems. Initially, not because they are older, but because of merely genital problems in young couples. The reasons why today we go to an assisted reproduction clinic are more varied than before: older age, stress and pollution that affect sperm quality, single parent families, homosexual marriages or rent wombs are some examples. The latest trend is to edit human embryos genetically to eliminate congenital diseases.
The Generation X, to which I belong, is the one that followed the previous “baby boom” generation, the generation of my parents. The so-called baby-boomers, the result of an extraordinary increase in the birth rate after the terrible war that was World War II, are the grandparents of today.
It is my generation, the so-called Lost or Transition Generation, of children born between the mid-1960s and the late 1970s, followed by the increasingly notorious Generation Y or millennials, born since 1980. Both Groups, parents of homes around the world, give way to a fourth litter: Generation Z, children born after 1995, and still coming from Paris.
The socio-demographic scenario of that Spain during the post-Franco democratic transition, as well as the rest of Europe and the northern hemisphere, has changed and continues to change so much that it can be questioned with arguments if these four generations share the same culture.
In general terms, baby boomers met their needs with a single salary, since the incorporation of women into the labor market was a timid and gradual process. The percentage of income that went to mortgage expenses was much lower than the one we allocate today, given the low salaries and high prices of real estate nowadays, when compared with those of those years. While the average emancipation age for Spaniards today is 34 years, the previous generation was married and had several children before the age of 30. Our parents took us on vacation to the beach or to the country village, while we now spend much more on Leisure, fruit of the consumerism that manifests itself in the clothes we wear, the car we drive or the restaurants we frequent. Our parents, now grandparents, were much more austere and frugal.
Thanks to that frugality it is easy to deduce that they could afford other luxuries. Among them, having more children at an early age. Of course, the culture of then favored this, although today the scenario is more complicated to procreate with the same results. Before, it was the man who brought the bread home. The woman was managing the household and she was also responsible for caring and educating the children. The incorporation of women into the labor market implies higher rates of unemployment, lowering salaries, delaying the age of procreation and thereby reducing the number of children per couple, who are more expensive to maintain and educate than before.
In Spain, the birth rate is the lowest in Europe, with only 408,000 births, compared to 677,000 born in Spain 40 years earlier. The figures cannot be more revealing: 1.33 children born per woman, compared to 2.88 children per woman in 1976. The average age of mothers has increased from 28 years to 32. With fewer births and an increase of longevity, more aging of the population.
In Spain, the birth rate is the lowest in Europe, with only 408,000 births, compared to 677,000 born in Spain 40 years earlier.
This situation puts in check the public coffers, forcing the State to sketch out tricks to pay the pensions of those who did deliver, “bringing” to the world future taxpayers for the state. And so, the call of Nature of the Spaniards of today, although it can be heard, is heard late and in a very low voice. Age, stress, pollution and other factors negatively influence the fertility of men and women.
In the World, there are about 50 million infertile couples, either for genetic reasons or for age, which is a juicy booty. In the United States alone, the assisted reproduction business moves a whopping $ 2 billion a year. Worldwide it is estimated that the figure is about ten times greater.
In the World, there are about 50 million infertile couples.
In Spain, the IVI (Valencian Institute of Infertility), which invoices 160 million Euros per year, has 50 centers in Spain and abroad. Spain is the country with the most children born by assisted reproduction in Europe, with 25,000 births each year. In 2014, 116,000 in vitro fertilizations were performed (according to data from the last Register of the Spanish Society of Fertility).
At the social level, the taboo that supposed to those parents 40 years ago to admit that at the time of procreation needed a “push” has been overcome by the number of cases of relatives, as well as by acquaintances who are in the same position. The Spanish male of the transition did not like to admit that his pen lacked ink. O tempo, o mores! But the number of couples that go to a specialist is alarming. If it were not for science it seems we were doomed to extinction.
Medicine has also advanced, thereby increasing the likelihood of success of artificial insemination. The percentage of successful (non-delivering) pregnancies with fresh oocytes is 47%, while with frozen oocytes the success rate is reduced to 33%. These figures should be interpreted with caution, since not all couples are equal and each case is different from the others.
The psychological strain that the search for descent is for the couple is also less, although the pressure that a prolonged treatment implies for the stability of the couple brings with it difficult problems to alleviate if this experience is not taken care of with the appropriate mental preparation.
The Bioethics Observatory of the Catholic University of Valencia warns of cases such as assisted reproduction clinics in Australia, which deceptively offer highly improbable full guarantees of success. Once again, the business takes precedence over ethics and the common good, taking with it the illusion, hopes and money of many couples.
All these medical advances are undertaken not without controversy, since religious organizations oppose in vitro fertilization, as well as the embryo freezing. The thing does not remain there, having to contemplate the most varied scenarios. Although in many countries legal gaps give rise to difficult situations in the case of divorced couples who have frozen pre-embryos, in Spain Law 14/2006 determines that the parents or legal owners of fertilized eggs sign an authorization document on their destination, contemplating the situation of divorce and being able to revoke or modify the conditions of such consent at any time. After four years, the cryopreserved gametes by the assisted reproduction center become the property of the latter, and can be used by legal owners for their insemination, donated for breeding or research purposes or destroyed definitively.
Faced with so complicated seemingly scenarios, curiously, Louise Brown and her sister Natalie, born 6 years later using the same technique, had their first children conceived naturally and at 28 and 23 years of age, respectively. It seems that they were convinced that they did not want to go through the experience of their parents and chose to be mothers naturally and at an earlier age.
The world evolves and of course we cannot stay anchored in the postwar years. But the population ages at a dizzying pace and the situation takes on dramatic ways. Leaving aside any religious reasons, passing over a consumer lifestyle and ignoring the efforts of science to show new ways of procreating for those who have no choice but to put themselves in the hands of a doctor, we should first promote the family values of the baby-boomers, for purely instinctive reasons and for the survival of the population. Without trying to be apocalyptic, if we do not strive to reconcile the working life of women with family life, in some way subsidize or encourage motherhood among those professionals who do not want to give up professional thrive, as their procreative role is essential and irreplaceable, the idea of a human race more and more artificially engendered, as in The Matrix, will cease to be just a screenplay.