Fortysomething IVF? A lifestyle choice and yet…

May 30, 2012 by
Blog   1 Comment

With miserly old NICE (somewhat astonishingly) green-lighting limited IVF cycles to those aged up to 42, it’s not surprising to hear the howls of horror. ‘Babies aren’t a right!’  ‘We can’t afford it!’ ‘Infertility isn’t an illness!’

Hugh Laurie and Joely Richardson at the premiere of 'Maybe Baby', Ben Elton's film about infertility

Shock and awe- sterity are many people’s default emotions at the moment. (As long as we aren’t talking about spending millions on re-branding public bodies, millions on reorganising the NHS in a haphazard way based on no proper evidence, or millions on the big sporty thing with rings – paying for anything else is considered downright unpatriotic. Oh apart from on that diamond thingy, too.)

But is it that simple? Of course not.

Few people oppose IVF treatment where there is an obvious problem behind the need – say chemotherapy causing sterility in cancer patients.

It’s unexplained infertility (accounting for 40 per cent of infertility in woman and nearly 30 per cent in men)  which seems to get people’s goats.  These – it seems – are the undeserving or even just unlucky group.

Yet ‘unexplained’ is just doctor shorthand – you could equally well describe such cases as undiagnosed infertility.

So imagine any other condition where a lack of formal diagnosis (even though your own doctor accepted there was a problem) denied you access to the only possible solution –  and the general public applauded that decision? Plenty of cancer treatment is experimental – we’re not sure how you got this tumour, we think this might be the answer…  In fact, the public are usually very keen for untrialled unassessed expensive cancer treatments to be offered as a matter of chance.

Critics say that a baby is not a necessity but a luxury. So should this sort of IVF be ranked with tattoo removal, breast implants and tummy stapling – operations often classified as  resulting from ‘lifestyle’ choices?

Well, if you start branding these as lifestyle, where do we end? Why should we pay for people to be patched up after rugby  games, or skiing falls – if they can’t be bothered to get private insurance?  Surely, lifestyle?

This attitude heads us towards banning any therapy where the disease could be traced back potentially to a lifestyle decision – wine, cigarettes, the odd good meal – we’ll be saying we can’t afford to treat heart disease soon – and shouldn’t all those ‘lifestylers’ pay for themselves?

Take a man who has developed type 2 diabetes through obesity due to eating too much and drinking too heavily. Doctors will confirm this isn’t unusual. If he loses his right leg, will the austerity chorus say a prosthetic is just a luxury? After all, he can probably do without if he uses a crutch and adapts. People have for centuries…

Of course, the real argument for letting older couples have three IVF cycles  is fairness.

If financial concerns are your level, consider this. Women who have paid into the system for all those years – when their sisters were popping out babies easily (and sometimes expensively), taking long, protracted periods of maternity leave or leaving formal taxation altogether by not working – surely have the right to something back. Most will return to work after the birth, and keep paying the taxman.

But some will undergo three cycles (and for anyone in doubt – this is not an easy option like ordering a take away – IVF is a gruelling programme) and still be disappointed. For them, the step to acceptance will be hard – but made easier by knowing that they have tried everything modern science can offer with the support of their own NHS.

Then they’ll pack their dreams away, go back to work, and keep putting money into the Inland Revenue, the coffers of the country, so that others are cared for when their lifestyle choices – ski-ing, eating foie gras, Friday night Sauvignon Blanc, or just not looking where they are going – don’t pan out.

Fairness isn’t just about cash though – it’s about kindness. If we lose our humanity in this ‘austerity’ drive, what have we saved?  A nation’s wealth is measured in goodness not gold. Let’s not turn against each other now.

About the Author

Victoria Lambert has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and specialises in health and medical matters. She writes for the Telegraph, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Mail and the Mail on Sunday. She contributes to Saga, Geographical and First Eleven magazines – where she is the agony aunt.

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One Comment on "Fortysomething IVF? A lifestyle choice and yet…"

  1. Naomi Majid May 31, 2012 at 9:34 pm · Reply

    Yep, I agree with your train of throught here. Maybe the NHS could take a cue from Down Under – in Oz I think they are allowed multiple IVF attempts even if they already have a child. It seems only fair to offer it to couples who are desperate not just for one child but also for another because allopathic medical intervention has often caused the secondary infertility! (pill, intra-uterine devices, various hormonal treatments etc). Perhaps there’s also a need for a re-thinking and re-educating of values though – IVF is no magic wand. It works for some and when it works it’s wonderful. But freezing eggs is basically Russian Roulette – the odds are ridiculously low. People place their faith in modern medicine because it is the religion of our time, but it’s naive to believe you can factor a baby into your life at a moment convenient for yourself etc. If you know you want babies – make finding a mate and having a baby your top priority, and making money and carving a career your second. Unfortunately, you nearly always can’t have it all, especially if you’re a woman. And don’t get me started on the greatly hushed up health dangers of the pill etc.

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