22 February 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 546
Sixty infertile couples protested on Canada's annual Family Day holiday against a lack of provincial government funding for IVF treatment. The February rally was organised by the group Conceivable Dreams, which represents 1,100 infertile couples who say they are suffering because the government refuses to help them.
One in six Ontario couples are unable to conceive without medical assistance. Currently, Ontario only funds IVF for women with bilaterally blocked Fallopian tubes, which is about ten per cent of patients. Others must pay for treatments themselves, typically costing $10,000 per cycle.
Couples often choose to implant more than one embryo at a time to save money and increase the chance of a successful pregnancy. However, this leads to increased risks for mother and baby, and often leads to multiple births. In Ontario, the rate of multiple births resulting from assisted reproduction technologies is estimated to be 27.5 per cent. Dr Ed Hughes, former president of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, is an advocate for increased government funding of IVF treatment. 'In Canada, the cost of caring for multiples exceeds the cost of IVF itself', he said.
Joanne Horibe, co-founder of Conceivable Dreams, claimed: 'Ontario could save $400 to $550 million over the next 10 years by tying public funding of IVF to more stringent criteria, limiting the number of embryos transferred and therefore reducing the incidents of multiple births'. Dr Art Leader, a professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa, agreed. He was part of a government review panel assembled to look at the issue of IVF funding, which recommended that the province fund up to three rounds of treatments. Other provinces like Quebec are already preparing to follow this approach.
Horibe claimed that the current Liberal government had promised in its election manifesto to increase funding for the 350,000 infertile couples requiring medical assistance. Health Minister Deb Matthews denied this. 'What we promised to do is look at it, and that's exactly what we're in the middle of doing right now', Matthews said. He pointed out that with a $24 billion budget deficit that needs to be reduced, there were limited funds for such action.
Opposition politicians are critical of this stance. 'It's not about ethics, it's about money, and even that argument is fallacious because it would actually save money to fund IVF', said New Democrat Cheri DiNovo.