Thursday, July 22, 2004

Bad Science on TV

It's been mentioned before, but I just can't stand the way people with infertility are portrayed by the media, especially those who choose to pursue ART (assisted reproductive technology). Unless they are celebrities like Courteney Cox Arquette or Brooke Shields, chances are they will be portrayed as psychopaths with ulterior motives.

For once, Hollywood is lined right up with the religious fanatics who believe IVF is a mortal sin and equate the process to a "sloppy high school science project" in which lives are casually discarded because the parents are too selfish to accept "the will of God" that they were "not meant to have children" (real quotes from Human Life International's website.) In a different situation, these statements would be seen as ludicrous: "Oh, you have cancer? Well, sorry, looks like it's not the will of God for you to live. What? You want treatment? Oh no, that would be selfish! Why don't you go pray for a while and let us know how it works out. If it's God's plan for you to live, you will live." No one in their right mind would actually say this to someone with cancer. But when it comes to infertility there is an astonishing lack of compassion for those unlucky enough to have to deal with it.

You don't have to watch much primetime TV to get a glimpse of some of the outrageous views that are out there. Just the other night I was watching Law and Order: Criminal Intent, an episode entitled "Ill-Bred." (I know, already you can see where this is going.) The episode is set on a horse farm where there have been some mysterious activities going on. The detectives suspect that the female owner of the farm is using the horses to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. from overseas. When the truth comes out, they discover that in fact, the smuggling was orchestrated by Paige, a stable worker. In addition to running her own little drug cartel using equine uteruses as transport (proving right off the bat that she's a sicko), Paige had also manipulated her husband into having an affair with the married stable owner and made sure that a pregnancy would result by slipping fertility drugs into her husband's chewing tobacco and poking pinholes in his condoms. Her plan was to blackmail the rich owner and then buy her own horse farm, leaving her unsuspecting husband in the dust. Her plan works, until the detectives show up.

Now, what frustrates me is that most people won't realize how ridiculous the entire premise of the story is. Most people have no reason to understand how fertility works; it's not something they ever need to think about. As my sister remarked the other day, "You don't care how electricity works until your lights go out." Unfortunately, my lights have gone out and so I've done a lot of research and consequently I know way more about infertility than the average OB/Gyn. (I'm only exaggerating a little.)

There are multiple problems with the story, but here are the most glaring.

1) Paige secretly gives her husband gonadotropins (fertility drugs) in his chewing tobacco.
-Gonadotropins cannot be administered orally; they can only be given by injection. I am going to be taking these drugs soon, and believe me, if there were any way to take it orally I would know about it!

2) The gonadotropins make him produce extraordinarily large amounts of sperm, guaranteeing that he will impregnate Paige's boss.
-Gonadotropins are regularly used in women to stimulate ovulation. They are rarely used in men, and when it is, it is only for existing problems like an extremely low sperm count. They will not produce "super sperm" in men who are already producing sperm normally. And among men who do have sperm problems, gonadotropins only succeed in increasing sperm for about 15% of them.

3) While questioning the husband, Detective D'Onofrio tells him he's been taking fertility drugs. "That's impossible," he says. Detective D slyly asks, "Have you felt an extra 'spring in your step' lately?" "Yeah," the husband counters, "what of it?" Detective D: "Thank you, fertility drugs."
-This one annoys me most of all because it perpetuates the myth that sperm production is related to libido and sexual prowess. In reality there is no connection. You can't tell how many sperm you're producing by how sexually charged you feel. Fertility has little to nothing to do with libido. And fertility drugs are not a more expensive alternative to Viagra. In fact, they often have the opposite effect and cause the patient to lose all interest in sex because of the hormonal roller coaster his or her body is subjected to in the course of treatment.

So, to sum up, real life people who use fertility drugs are not all crazy, manipulative and greedy. And Law and Order's writers need to do better research before writing their scripts.


  1. You know, one thing I've realized lately is how astonishingly uninformed the general public is about most issues. I suppose I always knew that, but recently I've become more aware of how ignorant many (if not most?) media sources are about most issues. I find crazy things in the newspaper/magazines/TV about all sorts of mental health issues, for instance, that are inaccurate. Now I take everything I see or read with a grain of salt.

    Frankly, it's a bit of a wonder our society gets anything done at all.

  2. That is so true.

    I've learned to take everything in the media with a grain of salt. The problem comes when I have to make a decision based on information that I can only get from media sources. Like political decisions, for example. There is so much bad information out there that it makes me want to just toss up my hands and give up!


Give it to me straight!

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