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Australian couples choosing IVF over lifestyle changes

16 September 2007
Appeared in BioNews 425

Australian couples are viewing IVF as more of a right than a medical solution to a health problem, warned a leading fertility expert last week. Professor Rob Norman, director of the Research Centre for Reproductive Heath at the University of Adelaide, told the Fertility Society of Australia's annual congress that many couples were not considering simple lifestyle changes such as reducing their weight or stopping smoking to improve their fertility chances with some opting for IVF as a 'substitute' for sex.

'There are a lot of people showing up with these health problems but they say: 'I'm not here for a health message, I'm here to get a baby', and that's not right,' Professor Norman told the delegates in Hobart. More than half the number of couples seeking IVF are overlooking lifestyle changes, said Professor Norman: 'People assume that if they can't have a baby then they're going to have IVF, without even considering that if they smoke or if they're overweight, they're massively limiting their chance of getting pregnant'.

The number of IVF babies in Australia has risen from 4,500 in 2000 to 6,200 in 2004. Another study, also presented at the Hobart conference, revealed that over 30,000 Australian couples have banked embryos in frozen storage for possible future use. Dr Bill Watkins showed how some 118,000 embryos are currently in storage, the majority of which are marked for future use, representing a potential of 12,000 future children. Dr Elizabeth Sullivan, who headed the team from the National Perinatal Statistics Unit, said that, 'We've got more couples now seeking IVF, which naturally pushes up the number of stored embryos, and there is a higher pregnancy success rate so less need to use frozen embryos to retry for a live birth'.

Amid the increasing numbers of IVF children, conference delegates at Hobart were also told about the findings of a survey conducted by researchers for an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, which highlighted the risks of twin birth through IVF conception. The report revealed that twins cost Australian healthcare three times more than singleton births. Care during and after pregnancy costs on average $24,000 for twins but only $8,000 for single births. Commenting on the findings, Michael Chapman, a fertility expert involved in the study, said that it represented a 'further nail in the coffin' for double embryo transfers during IVF. 'These costs are very significant and, put together with the clinical risks of having twins, I think there is a very strong case now to be steering women away from double embryo transfers,' he said. The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has completed a public consultation on the issue of multiple births and is due to consider the merits of introducing a Single Embryo Transfer (SET) policy in the coming months.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
12,000 fertilised eggs wait in IVF clinics
The Herald Sun |  12 September 2007
Couples too reliant on IVF
The Sydney Morning Herald |  11 September 2007
IVF now regarded as a right: expert
The Sydney Morning Herald |  9 September 2007
Survey shows Australians embracing IVF
The Sydney Morning Herald |  11 September 2007
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