LETTER- Condon manipulated facts

In her August 12 essay [ESSAY: "Playing God: Why it's still a fools' game"], Marlene Condon has the done the community a great service by instilling awareness of living responsibly with nature. However, she has imposed a personal bias on an otherwise thoughtful discussion.

Condon quoted a 2005 report in the journal Human Reproduction that claimed that artificially conceived children are 30-40 percent more likely than naturally conceived fetuses to be born with birth defects, and in an Australian study published in the New England Journal of Medicine she found that babies conceived through assisted conception were more than twice as likely as naturally conceived infants to be diagnosed with multiple birth defects.

What she did not say is that information in both these articles is controversial. Most publications examining the prevalence of birth defects in such infants have serious methodological limitations, and most researchers have concluded that there is no increased risk.

In the July 2004 edition of Pediatrics, Nancy S. Green MD wrote, "Birth defect risk estimates among women receiving [assisted reproduction] are readily confounded by overlapping etiologies, further complicating assignment of risk to specific factors. Epidemiologic rate estimates for birth defects are problematic, with incomplete data. These limitations may result in overestimates of associated risks."

Condon goes on to say, "How can we not worry about unintended consequences, especially if we're unleashing novel forms of organisms (viruses and bacteria) that— precisely because they have not evolved on this planet— do not have natural, or even manmade, controls out there?"

Had she focused and expanded these considerations, her essay would have been valuable in raising public awareness of these dangers and what individuals might do to counter them. But assisted reproduction is a personal choice with the possibility of problems best discussed with a physician, and not a topic for an essay on unleashing novel forms of organisms on this planet.

Patricia Bower