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Opinion: 'People should not have to resort to re-mortgaging their homes for IVF treatment'

Senators Catherine Ardagh and Fiona O’Loughlin are calling on the Government to make good on a promise fund IVF.

Catherine Ardagh & Fiona O’Loughlin

Ireland remains the only EU country not to offer state funding for assisted reproduction even though the World Health Organisation recognises infertility as a medical condition. Many are now asking the Government to honour its promise to change this, as outlined in the programme for government.

“Having lived through the highs and lows of five IVF cycles…the worries, the waiting, the failures, the pain, I strongly believe the state simply does not do enough to support couples facing this challenge. I was one of the lucky ones.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Catherine Ardagh shared her personal IVF story in the Seanad this week. Her colleague, Senator Fiona O’Loughlin also called for the roll-out of IVF in our public health system.

Senator Catherine Ardagh

I have decided to publicise our IVF journey for two reasons, the first is because I want a fundamental change in how the State treats couples and people who are going through fertility challenges.

Secondly, I want to open a broader discussion around the topic to end the stigma and loneliness associated with it. I know how hard it will be for many who are reading this article who have experienced these challenges and especially for those who did not have a happy outcome. My heart genuinely goes out to every person who has experienced these difficulties.

After trying to become pregnant naturally and failing we decided to seek help from our GP. From there we were referred to the Coombe Hospital for investigations and support.

There we underwent some non-invasive fertility treatment called follicle tracking combined with a drug called Clomid. We tried this five times unsuccessfully. It is a hormone-type treatment and can be tough enough on the body.

On the sixth and final round, I remember waiting and wondering if it would be successful, hoping desperately that it would, but realistically knowing that having failed on five previous occasions the odds were against us.

The highs and lows of IVF

After it failed again and having done some research, we approached our first IVF cycle at a private Dublin clinic with enormous optimism which was crushed a matter of weeks later.

It was the first of four failed treatments. I know that any person who has lived this will remember the feelings of anxiety and pain and pressure. On each occasion, I would get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realised it wasn’t working.

We were encouraged not to give up and to keep on trying and on the fifth attempt it worked out. I gave birth to two baby boys on 29 December 2019 in the Coombe Hospital, where all the staff were nothing short of exceptional.

But what about the couples out there who cannot afford one IVF cycle, let alone several? Everything surrounding IVF is very expensive. At the end of the process we had spent tens of thousands of euro and the truth is if we were back at square one we would do it all again.

I want to see others who are not in a position to pay privately for IVF get the support from the state in the form of free IVF provided in our public hospitals.

I am sharing my story because I don’t believe young couples or intended parents should have to re-mortgage homes, delay in buying a house and take out big loans to have a chance at having a family.

When you are considering embarking on the IVF journey or you are in the middle of it, there are so many worries and concerns and fears, I believe the State should alleviate the financial pressure and worries faced by couples.

In the UK, the British Government pays for up to three cycles for those under 40 and one cycle for someone over 40. In the coming weeks and months, I will be working with Senator Fiona O’Loughlin to ensure this Government delivers on their promise of delivering free IVF treatments in public hospitals as is set out in the program for government.

To all those who are going through IVF, I hope and pray that you succeed and if you don’t that you come to peace with your struggle. It is a real struggle but you are not alone.

Senator Fiona O’Loughlin

Infertility affects one in six couples and affects men and women equally. That is a lot of heartbreak, untold grief and sadness for many in our country. Those who are desperate to have a child face mental, physical and relationship challenges and on top of it all, huge financial barriers.

More than eight million babies have been born through IVF since 1978, making it a highly desired treatment for infertility.

The World Health Organization is very clear that infertility is a disease and should be treated as such with state support. In Ireland, people who cannot conceive naturally get very little or no support within the public health system.

Those in need of IVF and other fertility programmes find themselves having to pay between €6,000 and €10,000 per cycle. At the moment, fertility drugs are only covered by the drugs payment scheme or a medical card and private patients can claim tax relief but that is it, and that is just for fertility drugs. The State must help with costs along with medical support to ensure a continuity of care.

Legislation delayed

In 2017 the then Government approved the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill which is literally in cold storage in the Department of Health. It laid out regulations and a need for the establishment of a regulatory body.

In 2019, more details on a model of care were given but nothing has happened since. I acknowledge that Health Minister Stephen Donnelly confirmed additional funding, supports and the opening of fertility hubs in Budget 2021. What we intend to do is work with the department and with Minister Donnelly to improve the bill.

This bill at present introduces a legal and regulatory framework for Assisted Human reproduction but we want to improve it and stipulate that funding for IVF treatments in public hospitals be placed on a statutory footing within the legislation.

There are other improvements we would like to see including enhanced rights for LBGTI parents of children born by way of surrogacy in other jurisdictions. We also want to specifically include single people who wish to undergo IVF services and not limit the services to couples.

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Fertility clinics in Ireland are regulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority but there is still nobody that oversees the fertility industry generally. What is also concerning, are the ‘optional extras’ offered to allegedly boost your chances of becoming pregnant. These add-ons included hatching, intrauterine culture, Preimplantation genetic screening and time-lapse imaging.

The effectiveness of these add-ons is unclear and obviously, a couple desperate to conceive will quite often agree to every extra cost to increase their chances of having a baby.

We urgently need a revised bill signed into law and start taking steps to achieve publicly funded IVF. We are behind other developed countries when it comes to the provision of fertility treatment and this is causing huge financial and emotional strain on couples going through infertility.

Catherine Ardagh is a Fianna Fáil senator for Dublin South Central. Fiona O’Loughlin is a Fianna Fáil senator for Kildare South.

  • The Noteworthy team wants to investigate if the delay in publicly funding IVF has destroyed some people’s chance to have children. See how you can support this project here.

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Catherine Ardagh & Fiona O’Loughlin

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