CONCERNS have been raised by a leading Catholic ethicist that some of Australia’s major IVF clinics have been misleading couples with information about success rates.
Queensland priest Fr Kevin McGovern, emeritus director at the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics, Melbourne, described as “deceitful” how some IVF clinics presented figures on their websites “to create the impression that the chance of having a child is much greater than it actually is”.
Fr McGovern’s concerns are backed by a recent investigation by the consumer watchdog – the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – which revealed several major IVF clinics in Australia had made misleading claims, which could confuse couples about their chances of success.
“The ACCC is correct to say some advertising is meant to entice rather than inform,” Fr McGovern said.
He said some clinics were offering false hope to couples who “in order to have a child are prepared to grasp at straws”.
“It is still a minority of people who go to an IVF clinic who end up with a baby at the end of it,” he said.
The ACCC found some IVF clinics used “clinical pregnancy rate” data to compare their success rates where that data reflected the clinic’s success in creating an embryo, rather than live birth rates.
These comparisons were sometimes accompanied by photographs of newborn babies, which the ACCC said was likely to lead to consumers being given a misleading impression about the rate of successful pregnancies achieved by the clinic.
Fr McGovern said the real success rate of IVF was reflected in figures from the Australia New Zealand Reproduction Database issued in September.
There were 73,598 ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) treatment cycles in Australia and New Zealand. This included 67,707 cycles in Australia.
Many women had several cycles, so the number of women who were involved is considerably less than 73,000.
About 23 per cent of these cycles (17,427) resulted in a clinical pregnancy – about 18.2 per cent (13,373) resulted in a live birth.
“This illustrates why IVF clinics should report on live births not clinical pregnancies: there were 4054 clinical pregnancies which did not result in a live birth,” Fr McGovern said.
While one in six Australian couples now use IVF, Fr McGovern said it was important for couples to be aware that the Catholic Church did not support IVF treatment.
“The reason for that is that God’s plan is that conception takes place through sexual intercourse – through the act of love between husband and wife,” he said.
“Therefore the Church supports all approaches that assist natural procreation but doesn’t support those approaches which replace it.
“Catholics need to give that prayerful consideration as they work out what to do. And they need to know there are options consistent with Church teachings.”
Delivering a recent lecture at Sydney’s Bosch Institute, a leading reproductive biologist also warned of the increased risks of IVF treatment.
University of Newcastle laureate professor John Aitken spoke particularly of the risks of Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection – binding a sperm cell to an egg – an IVF procedure now being used by many couples.
Professor Aitken said new ICSI research from Belgium showed there may be fertility implications passed on from father to son.
“If you have a son from this process it is possible that he too will have the same pathology that you had,” he said.
Fr McGovern said it was worth considering the research, but added “let’s keep this in perspective”.
“There is a slight increase in birth defects if IVF is used and particularly if ICSI is used,” he said.
Fr McGovern said couples should consider the alternatives to IVF – Restorative Reproductive Medicine, of which there are leading practitioners at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital.
It includes NaProTechnology, an emerging medical science that accurately monitors women’s reproductive and gynaecological health.
“It requires more time, but it is a much less traumatic process than IVF,” Fr McGovern said.
By Mark Bowling