I have a friend who’s trying to get pregnant for the second time. She is a yoga fanatic, a healthy eater and has a low-stress job. But so far, it’s not working. So she’s trying a round of in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
My friend is 44. If a proposed law in Quebec passes, it will be illegal for women her age to have IVF, and any doctor who suggests out-of-province treatment will be heavily fined. The new bill aims to ban women older than the age of 42 from having IVF at all, even if they pay for it.
It’s a complete about-face for the province, which currently covers the costs of IVF—it’s the only province to do so—and other methods of Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART). If this bill passes, Quebec will instead become the only province to impose an age limit on IVF.
The government is calling it a cost-cutting move—babies of older mothers are at higher risk of medical complications and can be a heavier burden on the provincial healthcare system. Also, doctors tend to implant multiple embryos in older women to increase the likelihood of success, but this can result can be pregnancies and births of multiples, which can be more dangerous to both the mother and babies.
But a ban? A ban seems over-reaching, patronizing and is raising my feminist hackles. It’s one thing for the government to assess the numbers and decide that they don’t want pay for fertility treatments for older women; but it’s another thing to ban it altogether.
My friend is paying for her own treatments; it’s expensive and burdensome on her family. But it’s her choice (she really wants her daughter to have a sibling), and one I support wholeheartedly.
If a 42-year-old woman looks at the statistics and wants to pay for her own treatment, then it should be her right to do so—and it should be a doctor’s right to refer her to the best possible place.
The chance of a 42-year-old woman getting pregnant using her own eggs, even with IVF, is small. According to The Globe and Mail, “The live birth rate for Canadian women pursuing IVF with their own eggs is 16.3 percent at age 40. It falls to 11.8 percent at 41, 7.6 percent at 42, and 4 percent at 43, according to data from the Canadian Assisted Reproductive Technology Register (CARTR), which includes information provided voluntarily by nearly all the country’s fertility centres.”
The use of donor eggs has a much higher success rate in women over 40—an issue that is not mentioned in the Quebec bill. There has been some suspicion that the ban on IVF means that the use of donor eggs would be encouraged even more.
Read more: Secondary infertility>
The Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society does not have an age limit that they support, but in the United States the medical association that oversees reproductive technology endorses IVF up to age 54.
I admit to feeling some ethical squeamishness with some areas of reproductive technology. I do think that doctors should take a woman’s age into account—personally, I feel there’s such a thing as too old. But when I think of a woman too old to bear a child, I think of someone in her 50s.
Women wait to have kids into their 40s for many reasons—some personal, some professional, and sometimes because of infertility. It’s not the government’s job to judge or limit a woman’s access to fertility treatments when she is willing to pay out of her own pocket.
What do you think?