In Vitro Fertilization
The classic image of a luminous microscopic egg being pierced by a needle ushered in a new era of biological technology. The transition from human to cyborg has become easier with the advent of immunizations, the Internet, prosthetics, and implants. These inventions enhance natural human agency. In the last few decades, advances in prenatal technologies have been designed to manage infertility and reduce the risk for genetic diseases. The coming of the cyborg is now at the level of the embryo. The resulting baby can be considered a cyborg in some sense, not because of prosthetics or implants, but because it would not be able to live without the technological assistance.
In-vitro fertilization (IVF) was first performed successfully in England in 1978 by Dr. Robert Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe (Georgia Reproductive Services). IVF is one of the earliest and most common methods of conception for infertile couples. After two weeks of hormone therapy to stimulate ovaries, mature oocytes are retrieved from the female. The outer cells are removed to facilitate fertilization. Then it is mixed with sperm that has had inactive cells and fluid removed. In the event of low sperm count, the oocyte is injected with a single sperm, a process known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). After the egg has split two or three times, at which point it is called a pre-embryo, it is reimplanted into the womb, and the female takes hormones for two weeks to ensure uterus lining is suitable for implantation.
A second similar technique is called in vitro maturation (IVM), which is better for females who have normal cycles and no need for stimulating hormones and for females with polycystic ovarian syndrome with an increased risk for developing ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome from IVF hormones. Instead of hormone therapy, immature oocytes are retrieved from unstimulated ovaries and matured in the laboratory.
Infertility can affect both females and males. In males, the issue is usually a decrease or deficiency in sperm production or poor motility in sperm that prevents it from reaching an egg. This could be a natural characteristics or it could be caused by alcohol or drug abuse, environmental toxins, cigarette smoking, medication side effects, radiation treatments for cancer, or age (U.S. Department of Human Health Services). The most common cause of infertility in women is the inability or irregularity of ovulation. Other causes of infertility are blocked fallopian tubes and problems in the uterus.
The language of IVF is loaded with cyborg discourse. In vitro, Latin for in glass, refers to the process of fertilization and early maturation in laboratory dishes and test tubes, thus the nickname “test tube babies” for those conceived from IVF. Though IVF still uses the original reproductive materials from female and male, the otherwise natural process of fertilization is completely machinic. Since infertility prevents the reproductive organs of male or female from performing properly, artificial systems are used to create the embryo. The success of IVF potentially eliminates the purpose of fallopian tubes, since the synthetic needle can extract eggs from ovaries. If one of the issues of infertility is the male’s inability to ejaculate, sperm retrieval can be done through various techniques, pretty much eliminating the utility function of the penis.
Geiger, Susi. "On Becoming a Cyborg and Paying for It: Invocations of Motherhood in the IVF Industry," Advertising & Society Review, 2006.
Copyright © 2007 Andrew Cichowski, All Rights Reserved.