Exploring Assisted Reproductive Technologies
Assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF offer a path to children for same-sex couples, and gay and lesbian co-parents. But it pays to do your research, writes Ron Hughes.
Accessing ART [Assisted Reproductive Technologies] is not a simple matter.
In some states anyone can access ART. In others there are barriers to overcome.
Before any treatment begins, a prospective mother goes through a thorough consultation and physical and psychological assessment process to ensure the patient is both well-informed and emotionally capable of handling the treatment.
Put very simply, the process follows an entire cycle. It starts with a series of hormone injections to stimulate egg growth, monitored by a series of tests and scans. Once the eggs reach a certain size they are removed from the patient and each is then introduced to a single sperm, usually by microinjection. If the eggs successfully fertilise one or more eggs are implanted into the uterus. Then the wait is on to see if it/they implant successfully.
Some clinics will implant more than one egg, but others have a policy of using only one fertilised egg at a time. Other fertilised eggs will be frozen and stored for later implantation if the first attempt fails.
There are many questions to be considered before beginning fertility treatment. For one thing, there are significant costs associated with every aspect. For example, do you want to go with sperm from an anonymous donor, or do you opt for a donor known to you? Using a known donor will cost more, because their sperm must be screened to ensure it is healthy and viable, whereas using an anonymous donor is cheaper because the screening process has already been carried out.
Adding up all the various consultations, interviews and procedures described above, plus associated hospital costs, you can be looking at $6,000-plus by the time you’ve reached the end of your first treatment, successful or not. Medicare will rebate around $1500 of that if you are deemed “medically infertile”. If not, you bear the whole cost. It is certainly worth doing the research, talking to Medicare and checking out private health care options as well as comparing the costs and policies of various clinics.
But of course, the procedure and costs don’t tell the whole story. What about the stories of people who have gone through the procedure?
Many heterosexual couples go through this procedure every year. Many same-sex couples do the same.
Accessing ART is a very personal thing, and I found in the course of researching this story, most people who have gone through that procedure don’t want their personal stories published in the press. Understandably.
Betty [not her real name] told me her experience was quite a difficult and complicated one. “It took several treatments and sometimes my partner was not as supportive of me as she could have been. It put a real strain on our relationship.”
However Anita [not her real name] underwent two treatments, the second being successful. When asked if she had ever felt discouraged while undergoing treatment she said: “Not so much discouraged but rather disappointed by our first failed attempt, as anyone – gay or straight – undergoing IVF would feel”.
And at being successful she felt “joy, completeness, a stronger bond between my partner and myself”. She adds: “Patience I never knew I had in me, redefining our priorities in life, being happy with simple things, working as a team with my partner in trying circumstances”. And has there been a downside? “Lack of sleep!”
Anita also advised any same-sex couples considering having children to join their local gay and lesbian parenting groups to understand the variety of avenues that same-sex couples have utilised (and the reasons why) to have a child, e.g. local IVF, interstate IVF, foster care, self insemination, etc.
Some states such as New South Wales and Victoria allow access to ART for all women, while other such as South Australia and Western Australia allow ART only for “medically infertile” women. Many women from those states go interstate for ART procedures adding travel accommodation and costs of living to the whole process.
Dr Mick McEvoy, clinical director of Flinders Reproductive Medicine in South Australia had a word of advice to give on that topic.
“A woman might not know if she has fertility problems if she doesn’t go get a test,” he said.
“Do that before flying interstate and costing yourself more.”
Women who want to be mothers go through any procedures to reach their goal.
I asked Betty why she persisted through thick and thin. Was the desire to be a mother so strong?
She smiled and shook her head. “It isn’t a desire, it’s a need,” she gently corrected me.
“I can’t really express it. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I felt a need. It’s like there was a hole inside me that only a mother’s love for her child could fill.”
ART: STATE BY STATE
New South Wales
ART is accessible to all women married or unmarried under the Status of Children Act 1996.
Queensland law does not specifically ban lesbians from access to ART but access has proven difficult. The law banning single women from accessing ART was found by the Federal Court to contravene the Federal Sex Discrimination Act in July 2000. State anti-discrimination commissioner Karen Walters said Queensland lesbians seeking artificial insemination would do best to describe themselves as ‘single and unmarried’.
ART has been accessible to all women since January 2010
All women have been able to access ART since March 1997, regardless of sexuality or marital status.
ACT law doesn't prevent single or lesbian women from accessing IVF, but under the Artificial Conception Act 1985 only the birth mother will be recognised as a parent.
The Status of Children Act states the same-sex de facto partner of a woman giving birth as a result of IVF is the legal co-parent.
IVF is accessible in cases where a woman or a couple is unable to conceive due to medical reasons (medical infertility) or where a couple or a woman’s child is likely to be affected by a genetic abnormality or a disease. A bill has passed the Upper House to allow access for all women; it awaits debate in the Lower House.
IVF is accessible in cases where a woman or a couple is unable to conceive due to medical reasons (medical infertility) or where a couple or a woman’s child is likely to be affected by a genetic abnormality or a disease.