I think the Catholic Church’s opposition to IVF is well known. It’s based on the principle that IVF separates intercourse from procreation. In some ways it’s like contraception, only in reverse. It’s also very costly in terms of human life at the stage of the human embryo.
But it has a very human side too. The desire for children can be very strong. And many couples find it difficult to conceive. For many of these couples, that realisation doesn’t come until the last years of their fertility, which adds a sense of urgency.
If these couples are blessed to live in a part of world where there is good fertility treatment which is morally acceptable, then they have the option for a treatment that works with a woman’s natural cycle. In other areas, there are less options, typically only IVF.
IVF is hard on the couples who go through it. The scientific literature documents cycles of anxiety which the women experience during cycles and depression after failed cycles. The hormones used to stimulate the ovaries into releasing eggs are not kind to women. The process of collecting eggs is physically painful, but this pain is described as less than the emotional pain. Each cycle of treatment brings more anticipation and anxiety.
Men feel disconnected from the whole procedure, as if they are passive observers in the creation of their own children. I’ve even heard of one father who wasn’t even present in the same country as his wife when his child was conceived.
Approximately 40% of infertility is due to male problems. Is it right that the women should be exposed to all the risk and pain of IVF to overcome the male’s infertility? And a male’s infertility can be a symptom of serious disease. The failure to fully investigate this can be the lost chance to treat a potentially serious problem.
Some centres will not accept older couples, as they have a lower chance of success. This is to improve the success rating of the treatment centre, rather than for the benefit of the couple.
The cost of the treatment is very high. Here in New Zealand there is some public funding available for those who meet the criteria. For those that don’t, it’s upwards of $10 000 per cycle, and nearly $30 000 for a typical 3 cycle treatment. This is far more than many can afford. Is it just that only the wealthy can have children?
The heartache doesn’t stop when the treatment ends. For couples who are unsuccessful, there is no clearly defined end of treatment. Would one more cycle give them the baby they want? And often there is no reason found for their inability to have a baby.
There is immediate relief for couples who get a baby. But frequently there are ‘leftover’ embryos. Currently in excess of 10 000 in New Zealand alone. Many couples end their treatment with no intention of having more children. But frequently they correctly identify these embryos as being the siblings of the children they already have at home. They don’t want to bring them to birth, but they don’t have any morally acceptable alternatives. They see them as theirs, so they don’t want to donate them to others. And because they have some understanding of their humanity, they don’t want them destroyed by the clinic or by medical researchers. So every time the bill for cold storage arrives, there is a repeat of the anxiety. In the past many couples just paid the bill and put off making a decision. But now they will be forced to make the decision after 10 years. These dilemmas aren’t adequately considered before starting IVF.
There are new morally acceptable fertility treatments available under the banner of NaProTechnology. These treatments diagnose problems with fertility, and then treat them and work with a women’s natural cycle. The babies that result are born from an act of love, rather than a medical technique in a petri dish. For New Zealanders, the closest doctors are in Brisbane and Adelaide, Australia. But there are several practitioners in New Zealand who can start couples off with charting their fertility. That information can later be used by the overseas doctors. NaProTechnology is very successful helping couples with fertility problems to become pregnant. It also helps with many other gynaecological problems. And even for the couple who it can’t help to have a baby, at least it often tells them what the problem is with their fertility. For many, this can be a comfort. After 3 years of practising natural family planning 55% of subfertile couple conceive naturally. NaProTechnology results in even more couples having babies, and sooner.
It there is one last solution for those who wish to have children, who are infertile. It’s adoption. With the queues of people lining up for fertility treatment, how can we say that the more than 14 000 children aborted last year were “unwanted”?