A group of female scientists are working to postpone menopause, or do away with it all-together, The Wall Street Journal reports, touting potential health benefits and lengthened fertility. Research is in its infant stages, but potential safety and ethical concerns loom.
A woman officially enters menopause one year after her last period, which signals the end of her fertility. The ovaries stop producing eggs and release less hormones. The transition to menopause, which one doctor interviewed by the Journal reportedly compared to a “second puberty,” can take between seven and 14 years. During this time, the ovaries produce fluctuating amounts of estrogen and progesterone, leading many women to complain of symptoms like hot flashes, trouble sleeping, pain during sex, irritability, depression and brain fog.
Once a woman enters menopause, hormonal changes can leave them vulnerable to several health problems. According to the Endocrine Society, estrogen helps slow bone decay; declining estrogen will cause as many as 50% of postmenopausal women to experience osteoporosis, or brittle bones.
The American Heart Association (AHA) warns that changes during menopause, like thickened arteries and increased abdominal fat, among others, increase postmenopausal women’s risk for heart disease — the leading cause of death among American women. A 2016 study by the AHA also noted that women who experience menopause before they turn 45 are significantly more likely to experience heart disease — even after controlling for factors like genetics and weight.
Some scientists reason that extending the amount of time the ovaries function — either by replicating the hormone signals produced by premenopausal ovaries or extending fertility so hormones will continue to be produced naturally — will prevent the symptoms and risks associated with menopause. Not all scientists agree.
“It’s quite a leap to say that we should be preventing menopause and that doing so would cure all our ills,” Dr. Stephanie Faubion, the medical director of the North American Menopause Society, tells the Journal. Faubion further points out that a correlation between menopause and higher risk for health problems does not necessarily mean preventing or pausing menopause would lower the associated risks.
It is well-documented that hormone therapies, including those as common as birth control, can be effective in relieving the symptoms of hormone excesses and deficiencies — but only when used appropriately. Considering the delicacy of the body’s chemical system, we should be highly skeptical of the safety and side-effects of any treatment claiming to postpone, pause or circumvent menopause.
Assuming evidence showed postponing menopause would make women healthier, treatments to extend fertility past a natural menopausal age have moral and ethical implications for family planning.
While describing proposed benefits of extended fertility, the Journal notes:
“With the slowdown or elimination of a ticking fertility clock, women could experience their 30s more like men can—able to pursue their careers and hobbies full force, without the pressure to find a partner and have a baby before the biological deadline.”
This sentiment subscribes to several secular pitfalls. First, it views a limited window of fertility as an inconvenience or biological flaw. As Christians, we know that limits and boundaries are not inherently negative and restricting — the Bible includes countless examples of actions occurring within appropriate seasons. Instead of denigrating or pushing the biological limits God has given us, we should be good stewards of our fertility.
Second, this statement assumes a woman’s ideal life is that of a man — and that men get to do whatever they want in their thirties. In other words, if men are free to pursue their own interests in their thirties unburdened by fertility concerns, then women should manipulate and subvert their “burdensome” biological clock so they can live as close to men’s lifestyle as possible.
As Christians, we know both parts of this statement are untrue. We know children are designed to be born into marriages — loving, God-founded partnerships between a man and a woman. Thus, we know men should be just as concerned with forming families in their early lives as women.
We also know that the default ideal for a woman’s life is not that of a secular man. God creates women with purpose, complementary and separate from the purposes of men (Christian or not). A woman’s goal should not be to emulate the life of a man, but to discover what God has planned her to do with her time on Earth. For many women, that involves having children.
Most importantly, as Christians, we know that children are valuable gifts from God, lovingly created with intention, purpose and value. As such, we cannot allow children to be treated as accessories to a mother’s life — they have lives of equal purpose and value. Nor should we allow woman to labor under the premise that bearing children and giving birth are something to be avoided.
As we watch these scientific discoveries unfold, we should pray for practitioners to exercise caution in their application. Concurrently, we should proceed prayerfully and with caution when considering any hormone treatment or assisted reproductive technologies — including postponing menopause.
Here is more information on the moral and ethical implications of hormone treatments for menopause and other assisted reproductive technologies:
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