In Ice Babies, the second episode of A Child Against All Odds, Robert Winston follows the progress of three women each of whom has at some stage been diagnosed with cancer. The chemotherapy necessary to fight the cancer also makes a woman infertile and therefore the only chance to have their own children in the future rest with the storage of embryos in liquid nitrogen at minus 195 degrees. The three couples featured are at different stages in the process.
Caroline and Carl stored two embryos when Caroline was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The programme follows their story as Caroline, now given the all clear from the cancer, go through the thawing and implantation of the embryos. At each step problems can occur, but against the odds Caroline becomes pregnant and gives birth to twins. Tragically, one of the babies then lost her battle with infection and died.
Hilary and Clive have one daughter, but had been waiting before having another. Hilary was then diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite the risks that fertility treatment might inadvertently stimulate the cancer, Hilary receives hormones to produce eggs. 6 are harvested and 5 successfully fertilised before freezing of the resultant embryos for future use. She must now wait to implant the embryos for at least two years, after her chemotherapy has been completed.
The case of Natalie Evans and her former partner Howard has been widely reported in the media. When Natalie was diagnosed with cancer several years previously, she and Howard stored some embryos for implantation once she had recovered. Howard, however, later left Natalie and withdrew permission for her to use the embryos. Natalie took the case to court, initially in the UK and then in Europe. The programme follows Natalie as she await, and then receives, the ruling of the European Court. The judges agree with the UK courts and decide in favour of Howard (see BBC News report Woman loses frozen embryos fight).
The whole programme (58 minutes) is an engaging and thought provoking. In terms of clips that may be used to illustrate aspects of the fertility process, you may like to consider footage of the thawing process (starting at 2 minutes, but particularly 3:30-4:40. There is a good quote about the moral questions raised at 13:13-14:48, followed by more coverage of the fertilisation and freezing techniques. At 29 minutes, Caroline’s doctor explains the odds of success by comparison to rolling of dice.
This epsiode was first broadcast on 21st November 2006 (BBC1, TRILT code: 005D8967). The series is supported by a BBC website. An account of the following episode Make me a dad is also available here on the BioethicsBytes site.