In vitro fertilisation (IVF) marks a great step forward in medical technology, and Australia is a leader in the field. IVF is now a popular procedure for couples who are infertile or are having trouble conceiving. However, it raises ethical, moral and legal issues including the rights of an individual, property rights, the definition of human life, scientific experimentation versus a potential human life, religion, costs, and community, medical and taxpayer’s rights.
The process of IVF involves mixing the woman’s egg and the man’s sperm outside of the woman’s body, usually in a petri dish. Invitro fertilisation literally means ‘fertilisation in glassware’. If the fertilisation is successful, the formed embryo is transferred to the woman’s uterus after 2-5 days. Usually, multiple embryos are transferred to improve chances of implantation and pregnancy. Australia’s first ‘test-tube baby’ was Candice Reed, born on 22nd June 1980.
IVF is appropriate in certain circumstances, including:
• The fallopian tubes are so badly damaged that the woman has become near infertile. This may be due to Endometriosis, a condition where pieces of uterine tissue leak out of the uterus into the Fallopian tubes, which causes infertility. Under these circumstances, IVF is the only satisfactory treatment as it completely bypasses the Fallopian tubes. • Unexplained fertility is another problem, considering that 10% of infertility is due to unknown causes. IVF has a high success rates in these circumstances. Couples who are infertile due to an unknown cause and have been investigated can enter the IVF program after one year of infertility.
Before a couple can commence with IVF, they must first go through a selection procedure. This includes: • Blood tests to ensure that the female and male are healthy and free from Rubella, HIV and Hepatitis. It also tests hormone levels; • Ultrasound must be carried out, to ensure there are no cysts on the ovaries and no fibroids on the uterus; • Legislation requires that all potential IVF couples have a counselling session, to ensure they are physically and emotionally prepared for the treatment; • A consultation, where each couple is fully informed in detail of every part of the IVF program;
Unfortunately, there are many risks associated with IVF that may sometimes overshadow the benefits. The risks include: possible abnormality of the baby, ectopic pregnancies, multiple pregnancy (25% chance of twin pregnancy), cancer (including ovarian cancer, cancer of the cervix and of the uterus), irregular periods, and premature menopause. However, IVF can also avoid the baby being born with genetic abnormalities, and some people may regard multiple pregnancies as a blessing.
McBain v State of Victoria (2000) is a significant case in the area of IVF. Dr John McBain, a Melbourne gynaecologist specialising in reproductive technology, refused Ms Lisa Meldrum the right to IVF, because she was single. The Infertility Treatment Act 1995 (VIC) states that fertilisation by a procedure such as IVF may only be carried out on a woman who is married or living with a man in a de facto relationship. However, this is inconsistent with the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cwlth), which prohibits the discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of sex or marital status. Justice Sundberg of the Federal Court of Australia held that fertility treatments such as IVF were ‘services.’ Therefore, when Justice Sundberg handed down his decision on 28th July 2000, he found that the Infertility Treatment Act was inconsistent with the Sex Discrimination Act. Ms Lisa Meldrum began IVF treatments soon afterwards.
There are many ethical and moral questions raised about IVF, the main one being the expense of IVF. The cost varies between clinics but the average cost is estimated to be $3500 per cycle, although there are usually additional expenses. Medicare funds 85% of outpatient...