Is There Really A Link Between IVF And Autism? You Decide.

By Karen Weintraub
Guest Contributor

At what point does health journalism veer into fear-mongering?

This week, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study looking at the health of babies born via a fertility treatment designed to give sperm a boost.



As with many studies published in the prestigious journal, the media coverage was extensive, with headlines in Businessweek, Reuters, Newsday, The New Republic, Huffington Post, and many other outlets. Most of the headlines trumpeted the study’s finding that a form of in vitro fertilization increased the risk of autism and intellectual disabilities (defined as having an IQ below 70 and limitations in adaptive behavior).

That is factually accurate. But was it right?

I’ll lay out the details of the study, and let you decide.

Out of 2.5 million children born in Sweden from 1982 to 2007, the study looked at the 30,959 born with the help of fertility treatments.

It found that IVF, in general, didn’t increase the risk of autism any more than conventional birth; but it slightly increased the risk of intellectual disability. But media coverage focused on autism worries, and the one form of six techniques examined that appeared to be riskiest: a procedure in which sperm is surgically removed from the man and then injected into the egg. This is relatively rare (representing only 3 percent of the studied births between 2003 and 2007, according to Businessweek), but is generally done when the man has weak sperm or is unable to ejaculate it, perhaps because of a previous vasectomy.

In babies born of this technique, the risk of developing intellectual disabilities was slightly elevated – 93 children out of 100,000 had low IQ’s compared to the expected 62. Continue reading

Report: People With Disabilities Still Face Major Disparities In Health Care

Dr. Lisa Iezzoni, Massachusetts General Hospital, reports that people with disabilities were less likely to get standard treatment for breast and lung cancer, and more likely to die from their cancers.

Twenty-years after the Americans With Disabilities Act took effect, people with disabiliites continue to face major obstacles getting a range of health services, from preventive care such as cancer screening to various treatments for disease.

This bleak analysis comes from Lisa Iezzoni, MD, director of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and is published in the October edition of the journal Health Affairs.

According to the MGH press release:

Iezzoni, who has used a wheelchair for nearly 25 years because of multiple sclerosis, explains, “An analogy I use to illustrate how disparities among racial and ethnic minorities differ from those affecting people with disabilities is that Rosa Parks made progress towards civil rights when she could get onto that bus and sit anywhere she wanted to. I can’t even get onto a bus unless it is adapted for my needs, the bus driver notices me, recognizes my disability, and reacts to it. That kind of need for proactive accommodation applies to health care facilities as well.”

The 2010 census found that 54 million Americans — nearly 20 percent of the population — were then living with disabilities. Less than half of adults with disabilities were employed, and 27 percent of those with severe disabilities fell below the poverty rate, compared with 9 percent of those without disabilities. Iezzoni’s review of several broad-based surveys found that people with disabilities were significantly more likely to report being in fair or poor health than were those without disabilities. Continue reading