IVF should be affordable for everyone, not just the rich

On Mother’s Day our thoughts quite rightly go to the mums and caregivers who raise us, and often sacrifice much in the process.

But this Mother’s Day I’m also thinking about a more invisible group of women. These women don’t have children, but desperately want to. They are the women undergoing IVF treatment – putting themselves through the medical procedures and heavy medication, marking days off on a calendar, paying the bills from their hard-earned savings and often enduring repeated disappointment, all in the hope of having a child.

Should having a baby be a privilege only for those with lots of money?

They usually do this with the added burden of secrecy, because their hopes and disappointments are too raw to share with extended family, and reproductive health is an uncomfortable topic in many workplaces.

These women will often contemplate why the lottery of fertility didn’t fall their way – but ultimately must accept the inequity that makes their reality of having a baby expensive, invasive and hard, while their friends fall pregnant seemingly straight away.

All this and instead of a baby, many – if not most – of these women will endure regular, private heartbreak.

This journey is the reality for about 13,000 women each year in Victoria – myself included. The journey for us and our partners to fulfil the wish of having a child winds its way through an industry which is clinical, often profit-driven, expensive, over-promising and under-delivering.

The independent review of assisted reproductive treatment in Victoria, which the state government commissioned last year, will hand down its final report over the next few weeks.

Its interim findings have already exposed serious shortcomings in the corporatisation of the fertility industry – and troubling examples of clinical errors and unethical practices.

The interim report found only one in three IVF patients would have a child as a result of treatment – lower rates than many are led to believe.

Unscrupulous clinics can prey on the desire to have a baby, misleading vulnerable patients on their personal chance of success and dragging them into significant debt.

This begs the question: Should having a baby be a privilege only for those with lots of money?

Of course it shouldn’t – but at up to $15,000 for a treatment, people frequently cite cost as a reason for discontinuing IVF. We're fighting to make this system better. We’ll set up public IVF services – bulk billed and subsidised for low income Victorians, to make starting a family accessible to everyone, including those living in regional and rural areas.

We’ve asked the Health Complaints Commissioner to lead an inquiry into the dodgy, dangerous and unethical practices by some IVF providers, who oversell success rates and don’t divulge full costs upfront.

Thousands of young Victorians are successfully born each year with the help of IVF.

And we’re calling for people to share their stories of the industry, confidentially but with a view to understanding the problem and helping the system become fairer.

Thousands of young Victorians are successfully born each year with the help of IVF. For their parents, today truly is a happy Mother’s Day.

But IVF is life-changing, life-creating science. It’s too important to be kept only for the rich, and too powerful not to be sensibly regulated.

It’s true – there’s still no Mother’s Day greeting card that captures the emotional rollercoaster of IVF, its merry-go-round of medical procedures or the deep, deep longing for a child that in moments of grief and frustration can feel maddeningly out of reach. Nor a card that pays tribute to the endurance and commitment of couples who are still pursuing this dream.

But there should be, because this is the reality of modern baby-making for many, many people.

It’s tough, it’s painful, it’s deeply private but it can also be the beginning of our greatest joy.

Happy Mother’s Day friends.

Gabrielle Williams is the Victorian minister for women.

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