An investigation by the current affairs documentary Four Corners, on ABC, explained that women over the age of 45 have a mere one percent chance of having a live birth following IVF treatment using their own fresh eggs. For women aged 41 and 42 years old, the chance of a live birth per cycle is almost six percent, reducing to just under three percent for women aged 43–44 years.
Yet the number of women over 40 in Australia seeking fertility treatment has tripled, the programme says, claiming that the fertility industry is making a lot of money from selling IVF treatment without always explaining the chances of success. One of the women interviewed claimed that she was never told how low her chances of conception were using her own eggs. Grace Lococo, 42, underwent six cycles of IVF which were unsuccessful.
In addition, some experts told Four Corners that fertility clinics were selling add-ons to treatment that had not been clinically validated as effective, such as including additional hormones during treatment. Professor Gab Kovacs of Monash IVF said these were commonly known in the industry as 'snake oil'. 'That's the in-term in IVF for those sort of add-ons; it's like snake oil that people take hoping it works without the evidence,' he said.
The programme also claims that some clinics are offering treatment to patients who may not need it. Professor Rob Norman of Fertility SA in Adelaide told the programme that private companies are pressurising clinics to use IVF treatment, even when couples could get pregnant using less invasive methods.
Professor Norman claims that research conducted in his clinic showed that 40–50 percent of couples using IVF could conceive using less invasive methods, such as fertility tracking, ovulation induction or by losing weight.
He states that 'other less invasive methods are less generously subsidised on Medicare, and they do not make the profits. IVF does – of all the fertility treatments which can be subsidised by Medicare, IVF has the biggest rebate'.
Australia provides subsidies for fertility treatment, giving rebates through the Medicare scheme. There are no age limits put on state funding for fertility treatment, which according to Four Corners costs over AUS$250 million.
Dr David Molloy, clinical director of Queensland Fertility Group and deputy chair of the IVF Directors Group of Australia and New Zealand, defended the use of IVF treatment by those over 40. 'The truth is that only 20 percent of all the IVF patients in Australia are over 40. Seventy percent of them have fewer than three cycles of treatment, 35 percent get pregnant within those three cycles and 20 per cent, one in five, still walk away with a baby despite their age issues,' he said.
Dr Molley also rejected claims that clinics were being unethical in providing treatment for older women, stating that they adhere to self-regulation through a code of practice and regular inspections that govern how they treat patients. He said this is in addition to state laws that govern the provision of IVF treatment.
A further difficulty lies in the collection of data in this area. There is no standardised way of reporting statistics across the country despite a recommendation ten years ago by an independent committee to implement this.