Pentagon Makes Changes To Be More Family Friendly
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
There's an old line about family and the military. It goes, if the military wanted you to have a family, they'd have issued you one. Well, these days, the Pentagon is trying to be more family-friendly, offering better benefits, more maternity leave and this, a program that will pay for active duty troops to freeze their eggs and sperm. We called Brad Carson of the Defense Department's Personnel and Readiness Program to find out why.
BRAD CARSON: It really came about from talking to women in the force, just about their experiences, how we could make life better for them. There was a culture of women who say upon turning 30, their mentors would come to them and say, you should go freeze your eggs; pay for it yourself because this is something that will be valuable to you in 10, 12 years.
KELLY: OK. So one goal is trying to retain women to stay in the military. Is another one to give both women and men in uniform peace of mind that if they get hurt on the battlefield, they could still have children?
CARSON: That is partially the reason as well. We know from the last 15 years of war, traumatic brain injury but also genito-urinary injuries are really the signature wounds of these conflicts.
KELLY: Really? I did not know that.
CARSON: Well, you can imagine the IED blasts, which are the most prevalent traumatic battle wound - they're devastating to your lower extremities. And indeed, we've developed a lot of expertise over the last few years about trying to work on genital reconstruction, on developing gear you can wear, a so-called ballistic underwear. It is a very common injury. And so it's the right thing for us to try to offer this benefit.
KELLY: Let's tick through some of the questions that are being raised about this program. And one is that freezing eggs, in particular, is very new technology. It doesn't always work. How do you weigh that risk, that you might be asking a woman in her 20s or 30s to sign up for this, to freeze her eggs, and then she might discover - I don't know, age 40 - that it didn't work?
CARSON: We don't oversell the science. We know that the best studies suggest that it works in perhaps 25 percent of cases. But we're not asking anyone to do this. It's an option to people.
KELLY: Is there a risk, though, that the option becomes an expectation?
CARSON: No. It's just about expanding options for women. Our enhanced child care, our lactation rooms, our expanded maternity leave are all part of this ambition to make the Department of Defense the nation's most progressive employer.
KELLY: Freezing genetic material raises all kinds of legal issues. Who owns the sperm or the eggs in the case of divorce or death?
CARSON: Well, in the private practice of providing these services, there's been a lot of thought about the ethical and legal issues. And there it has now become common practice that people who freeze their eggs or sperm sign a declaration that prescribes what is to be done in the event of death. Typically, these options would include things like destruction of the material, donation, remanding the material to their next of kin. And so, as I said, there's already a fairly elaborate regime of rules and regulations that govern this that we will supplement where necessary but hopefully build upon as well.
KELLY: If I may inject a personal note into this conversation, I'm told you served on an explosives disposal team in Iraq. And I'm assuming you had young team members working with you. Was the ability to have a family something that you talked about? Was it a concern for you and for them?
CARSON: Those are folks who really are at the tip of the spear in these conflicts. And there is no question that concerns about pelvic injuries are ones they know are very real. It wasn't much talked about. The culture is not one that kind of openly talks about these kind of concerns. But everyone is keenly aware that it is never far from their minds. [CLARIFICATION: Brad Carson served alongside explosive disposal units in Iraq. He was not an explosives ordnance disposal technician.]
KELLY: Brad Carson, thanks for your time.
CARSON: Thank you.
KELLY: Brad Carson runs the Defense Department's Personnel and Readiness Program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.