Criticism over delay in licensing infertility clinics

A STATE agency promoting women’s health has criticised the delay in licensing infertility clinics that have been providing services in Ireland for over 20 years.

The Women’s Health Council (WHC) said Ireland, Romania and Poland were the only countries in Europe not to have legislation for clinics offering assisted reproductive technologies.

Infertility affects one in six couples in Ireland and the WHC said demand for infertility treatments was likely to increase with couples delaying parenthood to pursue career and financial security and as obesity and sexually transmitted infection rates increase.

Latest figures show that the number of babies born as a result of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) has more than doubled from 135 to 301 in 2005.

The WHC, who launched two reports on infertility and treatments yesterday, warned that the cost of one IVF cycle was €7,000, with fertility drugs costing up to €3,000.

Director Geraldine Luddy said the Department of Health was drafting guidelines for regulations and the expected judgment in the R v R frozen embryo case would also be taken into account when drafting legislation.

Ms Luddy said it was presently impossible for couples to compare the success of clinics as data was collected in different ways. “They will tell you the successful pregnancies they have, but not the births,” she said.

Less than a quarter of couples who undergo treatment will have a baby, with success depending on patient age, weight, pregnancy history and IVF procedures.

The WHC believes that regulation would curb any commercialisation of Ireland’s 10 privately run infertility clinics and enable the implementation of best practice guidelines.

Regulating the clinics would also support the gathering and publication of statistics in terms of services provided and outcomes.

It also pointed out that the unresolved legal question of the embryo had practical repercussions for service providers and might also negatively affect patients’ emotional and psychological wellbeing.

The WHC said there was no legislation to cover egg and sperm donations that was being dealt with on a case by case basis in the courts.

Director of the Merrion Fertility Clinic in Dublin, Dr Mary Wingfield, said recent figures put the number of babies born every year in Ireland as a result of IVF at around 3,000.

She pointed out that there was no upper age limit on infertility treatments and said that was a huge problem. “It is very difficult to discuss because we do not want to feel we are blaming women,” she said.

Dr Wingfield said a woman’s fertility began to decline at age 35 and fell dramatically after the age of 38.

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