MTR in Sunday Herald Sun
I DON’T want to discuss the personal IVF journey of Tony Abbott’s staffer Peta Credlin. Others can examine the politics of the Opposition Leader’s foray into the issue this past week. But there is a new opportunity to talk about IVF. It is difficult to criticise a procedure seen as ‘‘life-giving’’, and tempting to overlook the human costs.
The Opposition Leader says he supports IVF because he is ‘‘pro family’’. But we need to face the reality that despite IVF industry publicity, with photos of smiling babies set to pastel, most couples undergoing the procedure will never see a live baby.
In 2010, there were 61,774 assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment cycles performed in Australia and NZ. Of these, a mere 18.1 per cent resulted in a live baby.
There is a higher risk of miscarriage, terminations for foetal abnormality, stillbirth, a 2.5 times higher rate of death, a high risk of caesarean and pre-term birth, (33 per cent in IVF babies, 7.9 per cent in non-IVF babies) and low birth weight (26.4 per cent, 6.8 per cent in non-IVF babies).
IVF babies have more health problems. A large Ontario study found a 58 per cent greater risk of defects in IVF infants.
There’s an increased risk of heart defects (2.1 times), cleft lip/palate (2.4 times) and anorectal atresia (3.7 times). Gastrointestinal problems are nine times higher in IVF babies. A Switzerland study has found abnormalities in the blood vessels of 12-yearolds born through IVF.
There are ethical concerns about the thousands of stockpiled frozen embryos — about 40,000 in Victoria. Most are destroyed (20,000 discarded in Victoria in 10 years) and many are used in experiments. Then there is the cost. Medicare underwrote $217.4 million in costs from July 2011 to June 2012.
The cost of an IVF baby to women aged 30-33 years is $27,000, and for women 42-45 it is $131,000.
Egg extraction involves weeks of psychological and medical testing, followed by hormone injections. A long needle is used to pierce the wall of the vagina, access the ovaries and remove the eggs. The aim is to get as many eggs as possible. I know women who have had more than 20 eggs extracted.
Side-effects of the hormones include hot flushes, emotional turmoil, bloating, visual changes, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome and multiple pregnancy. Ninety-two IVF cycles in 2010 resulted in one or more of the foetuses being aborted.
An estimated 10 per cent of women develop hyperstimulation syndrome, which can be fatal. There were 206 cases in 2010.
Researchers from the Netherlands have found that women having ovarian stimulation have a twice as high a risk of ovarian malignancies.
Given the lack of adequate safety data, how can women exercise informed consent?
Marketed as the only option, women are often put on the IVF treadmill before others are explored. I know women referred to IVF in their late 20s who, after abandoning the program, went on to have children naturally.
Of course many couples would adopt if it wasn’t so costly (up to $50,000 per child) and time-consuming. Australia has been accused of having an anti-adoption ethos, with the lowest adoption rate in the developing world.
In 2011-12, there were 333 adoptions in Australia (149 from overseas) — the lowest on record.
Yes, there is a strong desire for a baby. But research on women’s experiences of ART shows many feel physically, emotionally and financially drained, and suffer anxiety, depression and relationship problems.
Women have a right to realistic expectations about outcomes and risks. Some women say they were given hope but not enough information. We welcome every baby born but this huge global enterprise has not cured infertility.
While it may have brought joy to some women with the birth of a baby, it has come with significant physical and emotional suffering for many more.