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New Study Tackles Role of Spouses in Fertility Preservation Decision-Making

September 26, 2018
Katie Visco

An ever-greater amount of female cancer patients are freezing eggs before beginning chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Such social phenomena fall within the field of study of sociology. So, then it’s not overly surprising that the first real study of any kind on the social dynamics of this increasingly modern medical scenario comes to us from the sociology department of a major American university.

The Facts of the Study

No good scientific study is complete without the “who, how much, and how many?”

open book

The study in question was conducted by Aakrati Mathur, a doctoral candidate at Portland State University for their dissertation. For the purposes of the study, “semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 heterosexual couples whose female partners were diagnosed with cancer and had received fertility preservation consultations within the past 5 years.”  As you might expect, reactions at the prospect of radiation-induced infertility varied from couple to couple, but Mathur’s research found that in most cases, healthy spouses deferred their partners undergoing treatment, and offered them support through their treatment cycle. A reassuring, finding to be sure, but perhaps an unsurprising one. A high -rate of divorce as a result of cancer diagnosis would absolutely be cause for widespread alarm. For those interested in exploring Mathur’s conclusions in a wider scope than is possible here, the dissertation is available in its entirety here.

Considering the Wider Moral Question

Do women possess a “right to motherhood?”

girl enjoying nature

Dr. Mathur’s work may not be earth shattering in and of itself, but it represents a first salvo in a rapidly -crystalizing new debate around the indefinite preservation of eggs and embryos, and what it means for the women’s health industry and women’sthe  rights of women as a whole. Legal protections ensuring insurance coverage for the fertility preservation procedures of female cancer patients are still a relative rarity in the United States, but the rapid expansion of the for-profit egg and embryo preservation industry since the procedure’s “experimental” status was removed in 2012 would seem to create an obvious demand for expanded coverage. We could at this very moment be witnessing the larval stages of one of the 21st century’s greatest public health struggles.

Perhaps an equality of opportunity argument could be made in support of expanded protections, a theoretical debate over whether women possess a natural right to motherhood and whether the state has a responsibility to ensure that right is at the moment confined mostly to the walls of college philosophy classrooms, but we may see it spill into our reality sooner than expected.

Hanging Tough

A cancer diagnosis is no longer enough to deter women’s dreams of motherhood.

couples tattoo

A story like this almost makes you want to sit back and just be in awe of it all for a bit. We’re living in the future—living in a reality , men like Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov made careers out of speculating abouton. We have the technology to extract a fully formed human embryo from the womb and preserve it in honest-to-god cryostasis (cryostasis! Like from Aliens!) for an indefinite period of time. But we can’t get starry-eyed with visions of cities in the clouds and George Jetson cars just yet. We don’t lie in the future—, we never weill, and we can only ever live in the present—but , and how good or bad the present is is entirely up to us. Support charities and candidates that support women’s health, stand by your friends, loved ones, and god-forbid significant others who are diagnosed with cancer, and remember that tomorrow is only as good as we make it.


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