We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week.
New Discoveries in IVF Show ‘Abnormal Embryos’ Are Viable—and Throw Serious Doubts on Genetic Screening
This week New York magazine gave readers a look at a new, controversial practice in the IVF community. It is standard practice to discard embryos determined to be “destined to fail,” but some doctors now believe that these embryos may in fact be viable—therefore throwing genetic testing practices into dispute.
During IVF, a woman goes through an intensive hormonal therapy to produce a higher than normal number of eggs, which are then harvested, fertilized, and tested for viability. If viable, an egg—or sometimes several eggs, depending on the situation—is implanted back into her uterus. Typically, many fertilized eggs get discarded due to cellular abnormalities found in a test called preimplantation genetic screening (PGS). According to the report, these abnormal embryos can develop into a child with a genetic disability, such as Down syndrome. “But more commonly an abnormal embryo is simply ‘destined to fail’—either it won’t implant or, if by chance it does, the resulting pregnancy will almost certainly end in miscarriage,” the article explains. But some doctors have started implanting the abnormal embryos—with surprising results. “. . . Embryos with abnormal chromosomes have the remarkable ability in some cases to ‘self-correct” during early development,” according to the article. The choice to implant “abnormal’ embryos began in Europe in 2012 but is becoming more common across the globe; still, doctors who choose to do it account for a very small percent of IVF providers.
The doctors who have decided to try implanting these abnormal embryos say they did so out of skepticism over the accuracy of genetic screening. One doctor who pioneered studies of abnormal fetal development was inspired by her own case: “In 2006, when Zernicka-Goetz was 42, [prenatal genetic] testing suggested her fetus bore an extra chromosome. She decided not to terminate the pregnancy and ultimately gave birth to a healthy son, now 10 years old.” One estimate cited in the article says, “Nearly 45,000 embryos may have been classified as abnormal and ticketed for disposal in a single recent year, many of which may have produced a normal baby.”
These new discoveries say nothing about the ethics of IVF practices in general, of course. While the article reports that a committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine deems the procedures “ethically permissible,” one doctor interviewed insists that patients who do the procedure agree to abort if the developing child still shows chromosomal abnormalities at ten weeks, harking back to recent debates around the selective abortions that have nearly eradicated cases of Down syndrome in Iceland. The article points out that many now feel as bioethicist Josephine Johnston does: “For me, the tragedy is that people who could have had a baby didn’t have a baby.” And of course, for those who believe that life begins at conception, discarding any embryo—which still happens with this approach—is a nonstarter. Nonetheless, it’s hopeful to hear that new discoveries in human development point toward the resilience of human life.
Reese Witherspoon’s Ex Sued for Alleged Assault
Reese Witherspoon’s ex-husband, Ryan Phillippe, with whom she shares two children, is being sued by girlfriend Elsie Hewitt. Hewitt filed a million-dollar lawsuit against the actor this past Monday. Hewitt claims that Phillippe “violently threw her down his staircase as hard as he could” on the evening of July 4. After the incident, Hewitt sought treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and obtained a restraining order against Phillippe. Additional claims accuse Phillippe of abusing “cocaine, ecstasy, psychedelic mushrooms, and steroids.” As of Tuesday morning, Phillippe has hired a lawyer and plans to sue Hewitt for defamation. Hewitt’s lawyer shared that Hewitt plans to donate any awarded money to charity and said, “Filing a civil lawsuit where you are going to donate all your money to a domestic violence charity is all about empowering women to stand up against domestic violence. It is not a means for revenge.” —Victoria Rabuse
Double Standard Down Under
In a recent ABC survey of Australia, results showed that women spend about twice as much time doing household duties and taking care of children than men do. Similarly, the survey found that 95 percent of employees who took parental leave were women—and that many of these women taking parental leave are being paid much less than their fellow man. The survey’s results indicate that perhaps, way down under, the employment situation is not as equal as leaders profess it to be. According to Forbes, “Women, as of 2014, took home on average $283.20 AUD less than their male counterparts each week.” Forbes also reports that “at the work place, 22 percent of women aged between 18 to 64 experienced sexual harassment, one in five mothers were made redundant from their positions, and one in two have experienced discrimination.” —Mary Margaret Olohan
Déjà Vu at Fox News
On the heels of this spring’s sexual harassment claims again Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly comes yet another lawsuit against Fox News. Conservative commentator Scottie Nell Hughes claims that Fox Business’ Making Money anchor Charles Payne raped her in July 2013. According to the New York Times, Payne allegedly “‘pressured’ his way into her hotel room in July 2013 and coerced her to have sexual intercourse with him, even though she had refused his advances by telling him ‘no’ and ‘stop.’” After the incident, Hughes said she spent the next two years in a forced sexual relationship with Payne, who provided higher career visibility in exchange. Payne returned to Fox earlier this month after a July suspension by the network, which claims to have completed the investigation born from Hughes’ claim. In an interview, Hughes said, “In July of 2013, I was raped by Charles Payne. In July of 2017, I was raped again by Fox News. Since then, I have been living an absolute hell.” The lawsuit was filed this past Monday and names Payne, Fox News, and several high-profile members of the company, including Executive Vice President of Legal and Business Affairs Dianne Brandi and Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications Irena Briganti. —VR
Women Won Big at the Emmys
The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards were held this past Sunday in Los Angeles, and it was a night for women, both on and offscreen. For starters, Lena Waithe made history by becoming the first black woman to win the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Writing for Masters of None. Big Little Lies, the brainchild of Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon (based on the bestselling novel by Liane Moriarty), took home Best Limited Series, and The Handmaid’s Tale won eight Emmys, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Elisabeth Moss) and Outstanding Drama Series. Aside from the night’s expected speeches thanking producers, directors, and writers, many of the winners chose to focus on women, whether speaking out against bigotry and sexism in the entertainment industry (Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin) or starting a dialogue on the prevalence of domestic abuse (Kidman). Check out all that you missed here on Verily.
New Mom Serena Williams Writes to Her Mom
Professional tennis player Serena Williams has released a heartwarming letter to her mother as she celebrates the birth of her daughter, Alexis. In her letter, Williams mourns the many years of body shaming she has had to endure and thanks her mother for her continued support and guidance as a “classy” role model. Williams tells her mother that she hopes Alexis, who Williams says inherited her own muscular frame, will never be shamed for being a strong woman. “I am proud we were able to show them what some women look like . . .” Williams writes. “We are curvy, strong, muscular, tall, small, just to name a few, and all the same: We are women and proud!” —MMO
Calling All Mrs. Fix-Its
Tired of not knowing the first thing about fixing your car? According to Marketplace, so was Patricia Banks, a failure analyst making six figures until she realized that she couldn’t find a female mechanic to fix her car—and then realized that there really aren’t any female mechanics out there. Now she has set up her own car repair place called The Girls Auto Clinic Repair. She runs monthly workshops enabling women to understand the workings of their vehicles and has even written a book expressly for your glove compartment: Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide. The Girls Auto Clinic Repair hires mostly women employees and even has a nail salon right next door, so you can get a manicure while waiting for your car. Talk about taking matters into your own hands! —MMO