A recent Columbia University study published in the American Journal of Public Health finds that children conceived through assisted reproductive technology (ART), such as in vitro fertilization, are twice as likely to develop autism as those conceived without ART. The study included nearly 6 million children born in California between 1997 and 2007.
But a panel of experts on The Doctors, including Fox News correspondent Dr. Marc Siegel, caution that the findings did not prove a causal effect, only an association.
“The problem is this is not proof," says Dr. Siegel. “The truth is that IVF is extremely helpful, and actually, as part of in-vitro fertilization, they look over the genetics of the egg, so there's less likelihood there to be a problem. I think the take-home message here, which gets lost a lot of the time, is it’s about how many embryos you should put in at one time. How many embryos do you use? Because they find that with multiple embryos and multiple births, there’s a higher risk of complications.”
Dr. Jennifer Ashton, an Ob-Gyn, concurs. “You don’t know whether it’s the in-vitro process that can potentially introduce these harms or is it what is causing the infertility in the first place, and is that a factor? Association is not the same as causation. That’s so important for people to understand,” she says. "We're not throwing out a Columbia study with 6 million people involved. That's a big study, and it's reputably done," she clarifies. But, she cautions, correlation is not the same as causation.
She adds, "We know that there are much higher risks not just to the mother but also to the fetuses if you transfer two or three embryos. So there is a big push now in this country to do just one."