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Time to consider limits on the will to conceive

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“Just beware that the cost of IVF is more than dollars. I have seen girlfriends lose the plot in the past, along with their relationships, not knowing when to say enough is enough. IVF clinics are businesses, and they don’t turn away customers when they should.”

“I get it,” she answered.

“I’ll give it a go and if it doesn’t work, then at least I’ll know I’ve done everything I can and move on.”

My friend hasn’t moved on. She admitted today she’s starting on her third round, and will “definitely stop” after that.

And while I would never tell any woman what she should or shouldn’t do with her own body, or engage in the older mother debate when men are never questioned about age impacting their parenting abilities, I will question the ethics of doctors encouraging her to continue with IVF.

You see, I just tapped my friend’s details in to the federal government’s new ‘Your IVF Success’ website, a world-first that allows women to predict their chance of having a baby.

IVF procedures are on the rise.

IVF procedures are on the rise.Credit:Craig Abraham

Well, to be accurate, I tried to type my friend’s age into the system, but found the maximum age accepted is 45. So, I rounded down and entered the figure.

The outcome? A 45-year-old woman has a 1 per cent chance of success on her first try. Yep, one. And that rate doesn’t budge on second and third attempts (the predictor doesn’t expand on further tries).

Now, before I let rip, let me explain that I believe IVF is the greatest thing to happen to women since the pill.

I have often seen it work for friends and have relished in their joy at becoming parents. I also have children I adore in my life conceived via IVF and know the world’s a better place with them in it.

IVF industry profits too often come at the price of broken hearts.

IVF industry profits too often come at the price of broken hearts.Credit:Peter Braig

However, what I don’t like about IVF is that it is a business that will be worth an estimated $US37.7 billion by 2027 ($48.6 billion) globally, and businesses are about making money. And that profit, too often comes at the price of broken hearts.

Statistics show one in 20 babies are now conceived via IVF in Australia, with one in 10 babies born to women aged 35 and older (over 35 pregnancies are harshly referred to as geriatric). Overall, 27 per cent of embryo transfers result in a live birth, but the chances of having a baby via IVF are largely dependent on a woman’s age.

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Nothing can make old eggs young and fertile again, and, after 35, a woman’s fertility declines rapidly.

This new site finally allows women to realise this without being blinkered to the facts or having expensive carrots dangled in front of them by those willing to exploit their pain.

You see, geriatric pregnancies are IVF gold for clinics, which love to boast about their success stories in that demographic as it means further business.

This new site is welcome as it addresses the problem of transparency that has plagued the industry by linking the individual success rate of clinics as compiled by an independent body. And it is about time.

However, there is another issue which need to be looked at in regards to IVF, and that is just why we have unlimited Medicare rebates for patients using the service when, for over 40s, the chances of conception are low, if not impossible, and the emotional and physical toll is so high.

Of course, I am all for Medicare helping women financially when the average costs per cycle is a staggering $10,000, which, after the Medicare rebate, leaves patients around $4800 out of pocket.

And I am especially concerned the high price of treatments have contributed to an increase in Australians withdrawing from their superannuation funds to pay for it, with the scheme allowing early access to funds for compassionate treatments to help with pain or mental illness (IVF falls into the category of mental suffering).

However, the Fertility Society of Australia calculated in 2016 that if all the costs of IVF treatment for women aged over 40 were added together and then divided by the number of babies born, this worked out to $100,000 per baby, compared with about $28,000 for babies born to women aged 30. For women aged over 45, the cost worked out at $200,000 per baby.

“Is that value for money?” the society’s chairman, Professor Michael Chapman asked.

“That’s a question the taxpayer has to answer … I think over 45 you have to think seriously about whether Medicare should cover them.”

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Back in 2005, then federal health minister Tony Abbott considered reducing the number of IVF treatments eligible for Medicare rebate to three a year for women under the age of 42 and to a total of three for women over 42, explaining that it is not a “life-saving treatment”, but a backlash saw the idea withdrawn.

This followed a rise in the cost to taxpayers for IVF from $50 million in 2003 to $79 million in 2004 with the introduction of Medicare Safety Nets.

I would never be so cruel as to suggest any woman should be denied access to IVF or receive a rebate.

However, for the sake of women over 45, I do believe a cap of say three rounds, should be introduced (if using younger or donor eggs, then no limit).

This is not only to save them (and us), the high financial burden, but also the devastating emotional pain of gambling on a dream that unfortunately, even with medical intervention, is likely remain just that.

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