EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
IVF unlimited - time to call a halt
, November 18, 2000
The Prime Minister’s legislation to overturn the Federal Court ruling permitting single women and lesbians to have access to Medicare-funded IVF fertility treatment, is now before a Senate Committee, which is due to report back by December 4.
The legislation is far less than the Prime Minister proposed in the wake of the court judgment, when he said that every IVF child had the right to a mother and father, and that he would legislate to give effect to that principle. "To have the affection and care of both a mother and a father is the primary consideration," he said.
The proposed legislation now states that it is lawful to refuse a person access to IVF services in any state where an existing law restricts access to the service on grounds of marital status.State laws
At present, the only states which have laws restricting access to IVF services in this way are Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. In the case of Victoria, the Bracks Labor Government has announced that it will comply with the Federal Court judgment, so Federal legislation will have no effect.
Mr Beazley has stated that the ALP will oppose Mr Howard’s legislation, seeing it as an attempt to "roll back" the Sex Discrimination Act - although there is no evidence that anyone envisaged that the Act would have this effect when originally carried.
The proposed legislation will therefore have effect only in South Australia and Western Australia.
Putting it another way, there is no control over the IVF industry in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, and only limited control in Victoria and the territories.
As a matter of public policy, both the legal and legislative processes have completely ignored the right of a child to be born into an intact family, to know the father and mother, and to be loved and cared for by them.
Additionally, it ignores the growing problems that the IVF procedures themselves pose real risks to women and babies conceived as a result of them.
One of these was recently identified by Professor Roger Short, a reproductive biologist at the Royal Women’s Hospital, who said that male infertility often occurred because men had mutations or deletions in the genes that controlled sperm production.
Addressing the third Menzies Symposium at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Short explained that in some techniques, a single abnormal sperm is injected into a single egg.
"In allowing defective sperm to fertilise an egg in this way, we know that we are propagating the defect in any male offspring that are produced," he said. Although the offspring’s infertility could be treated, Short questioned whether doing so outweighed the adverse effects in the population at large.
"We are bypassing an important safety check of nature’s designing. Evolutionary biologists would have to say that the evidence suggests infertility is not an accident; it’s a protective mechanism and we’re bypassing it at our peril."
Another danger with IVF is that it appears to be associated with an increased risk of birth defects, the cause of which is still not properly understood.
A recent study carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, found that assisted hatching was associated with higher rates of "monozygotic twinning."
This is where a single, fertilized embryo splits in two at an early stage, producing a twin pregnancy. The study showed that monozygotic twinning is more likely to produce babies with defects than the more usual form of twinning, in which two fertilised embryos implant themselves into the womb.
An further consequence of the IVF industry is that there are now thousands of human embryos in cold storage. Although they are undoubtedly human beings, they have no legal status, and some medical scientists want to conduct experiments on them.
The law on adoption reflects the principle that a child is entitled to know his or her father. But where there is no requirement to impact this information, a child borne under IVF has no right to know the identity of his or her father.
The ABC Lateline program on August 10 this year interviewed a young woman, Joanna Rose, who was conceived by donor insemination in a London clinic 28 years ago.
She described "a burning feeling in my bones" to know where she came from, and added, "There are huge aspects of my identity, my self-knowledge, my ancestry, my medical history that I don’t know. I’d rather answer those questions as soon as possible than live with unanswered questions for the rest of my life, and I’ll do whatever I can to answer them quickly so I can get on with the rest of my life …"
Another young woman, conceived on the same basis, wrote in similar terms to the Sydney Morning Herald.
It may be that Mr Howard’s legislation is the best that can be done. But the problems with IVF are so pervasive that they will continue until alternative methods of treating infertility are given the same resources that have been lavished on IVF experimentation in the past.