Infertility and The Handmaid’s Tale: could it come true?
There are lots of movies and television shows that deal with the future of the human race and potential apocalypses. While many focus on the rise of machines or technology, often the scariest ones (at least for me) are concerned with infertility. Most recently The Handmaid’s Tale deals with what would happen to society if there were widespread infertility. Watching it got me thinking: could mass infertility be possible and are there solutions to this?
It certainly does not seem likely that the world suffers from a fertility problem with 7.5 billion people alive today and if current trends continue, it is likely that the world be home to an astonishing 9.7 billion by 2050! But this growth is driven mainly by Africa and Asia. Western nations are starting to feel the effects of an ageing population; people are having fewer children so there are more elderly compared to young people. This change has been put down to societal and cultural shifts, but could there be another underlying cause?
Image from Flickr, by sparrowz2006
Is there a problem?
Everyone knows of Henry VIII and his issues of fertility. He was by no means the only ruler to experience these issues. So if infertility has existed for a very long time, are current issues anything new? Is there a real increase in infertility rates? Unfortunately this information is not accurate, however a recent report released this year suggests infertility might be on the rise, especially amongst males.
The systematic review looked at sperm counts and how they have changed over the past few decades. It found that western men, both those that have had children and those that haven’t, there was a significant decline in sperm counts. This decline was around 50-60% from 1970s levels to present day levels. This is a huge and shocking change.
The authors did not address why this could be happening but others have theorized that environmental and lifestyle factors could be to blame. These could be exposure to chemicals, consumption of alcohol, smoking or low levels of exercise.
Finally dropping birth rates and fertility could be linked to people putting it off longer and longer to have children, thereby decreasing their chances.
So what could be done to change it?
Well if this apparent low sperm count leads to mass infertility, could there be a solution? Luckily science has already come up with many ways to help people become parents. The rise of IVF and decrease in its cost has enabled hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of children to be born.
But this method still relies upon people having viable sperm and eggs. If they didn’t have this, what could they do if they wanted their own biological children? Amazingly, scientists have been able to create both sperm and eggs using skin cells. Finally, with the success of uterine transplants it seems likely that humans could avoid major population infertility. But due to the costs of treatment, it may lead to only allow those that are wealthy to conceive.