Should there be an age limit on government-funded IVF treatments?

Infertility treatments.
Infertility treatments. Stock photo by Getty Images.

How old is too old to have a baby? How about to get in-vitro fertilization treatments on the taxpayer’s dime?

Ontario is poised to become the first province to offer free IVF treatments to women of any age, according to a leaked document obtained by the National Post this week.

A Health Ministry report allegedly presented the IVF treatment “would be open to anyone with a medicare card.” Furthermore, the PowerPoint presentation, supposedly displayed at the Ontario Medical Association on August 17, is said to have stated that people would be eligible for one free cycle “regardless of age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, family status, disability, etc.”

This lack-of-age restriction is a real head scratcher. Technically, if a senior walked in and wanted to apply for one cycle, the program would be open to her as long as she has a valid medicare card?

This program is planned on being introduced, just as the Quebec IVF funding program fizzled out and is being closed. The irony is that the Quebec program was restricted to women 18 to 42 years of age, but despite the restriction the program still couldn’t manage to stay within its budget due to the large demand.

See: Older women out of luck for Quebec IVF treatments

This no-age-limit eligibility is not in line with the Ontario-appointed advisory committee that recommended any woman that is morbidly obese and/or over the age of 42 to be excluded. In fact one member of the committee said that age and obesity, according to scientific evidence are important criteria upon which the successes of some of these public health programs rely. This is important, especially in light of Quebec’s failed IVF program.

The Ontario program came as a surprise to legal experts as well. University of Ottawa law professor, Amir Attan, is concerned about what would happen if there would be no restrictions placed on these treatments.

“It’s going to set a race to the bottom, because the less ethical clinics will give patients false hopes, and offer them futile treatment just to be paid,” he told the Post.

Given the failure of the Quebec plan, Attan is also concerned about the “sustainability of the program.”

How indeed can a provincially funded program be sustained if no limits are placed on who can receive treatment? Can the province really justify a pricey fertility program that is open to both teens and grandmothers?

Right now the cost for one round of the treatment is about $10,000 and the new fertility program will cost Ontario about $70 million.

Further concern is raised over the program treating infertility as a social, not a medical, problem. Accordingly, the funding that would be provided would not be from medicare.

Perhaps the age of 42 is a bit early to be banning fertility treatments — after all women are still having children into their late forties.

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