TORONTO – A lobby group pushing for government funding of in vitro fertilization (IVF) has stepped up its campaign.
Conceivable Dreams has launched a nine-month effort to pressure Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews into using taxpayer dollars to fund attempts by infertile couples to have a baby by using the latest technology.
The Conceivable Dreams campaign follows a 2009 report from the province's Expert Panel on Infertility and Adoption.
David Johnston authored the report before he was appointed Canada's governor general. Johnston continues to press Premier Dalton McGuinty to implement his report's recommendations on adoption and IVF.
The province of Quebec has been funding IVF cycles for the last two years. An IVF cycle, with associated drug expenses, typically costs $5,000 to $10,000.
Matthews isn't saying no, but she isn't saying yes.
"We must be conscious of our fiscal restraints," Matthews said in an email to The Catholic Register. "We continue to review the best available evidence on IVF."
The Catholic Church objects to IVF because it is immoral, not because it's expensive, said Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute.
"It just doesn't do justice to relationships," McQueen said. "The child deserves to be born by the intimate act of its own father and mother."
That doesn't mean the Church thinks infertile couples should just suck it up and stop whining, said McQueen.
"The moral imperative is really to find cures for infertility. Why are so many people infertile these days?" she asked. "Is it linked to problems in the environment? Lifestyle? Contraception?"
Last year Matthews told an online chat, "We're not moving with OHIP funding of IVF, but we're not closing the door either."
Conceivable Dreams co-founder Joanne Horibe thinks the financial argument against public funding is weak.
"People don't really understand that the expert panel has said funding IVF will end up saving the province money," she said.
Horibe says private IVF procedures are costing the public medical system big time. Because the procedures are expensive and prone to failure, many couples choose to be impregnated with multiple embryos, increasing the chances at least one will survive.
"For a lot of our members who are able to afford even one round (of treatment) it's often their life savings," said Horibe. "Basically they're saying, 'OK, I've got one shot at it.'"
Multiple births and the difficult pregnancies that precede them are expensive. Women carrying twins, triplets or even quadruplets are at higher risk for gestational diabetes and other complications. They often give birth early, which means more babies in neonatal intensive care.
It all adds up to "a huge burden on the health care system," Horibe said.
If the government adopted the panel's recommendations, OHIP would fund only a single cycle and a single embryo. In Quebec that's meant a decrease in the multiple-embryo scenario, and health care savings, said Horibe.
McQueen believes infertility rates have been affected by economically driven social changes which have pushed couples to delay marriage and women to delay child bearing.
"Every young woman who ever learns anything knows about the spectrum of fertility in the age range and knows that at the end of the spectrum your chances are winding down," she said.
"This has nothing to do with being Catholic, nothing to do with morality. You look at the way our body cycles work and surely we would take that into account."
McQueen doesn't buy the argument that funding IVF will save money.
"How is the province going to save money? In fact, they have to pay for the cycles – which you clearly don't have to do when people have children the normal way.
"You're spending money."
For now the Ministry of Health is funding a public awareness campaign on fertility, giving doctors more help in spotting fertility issues and providing "clinical data to help patients make informed decisions about their assisted reproduction options."