Demonstrators call for provincial IVF funding

About 100 people rallied at Queen's Park on Monday, calling on the provincial government to fund in vitro fertilization treatments.
Demonstrators who want the Ontario government to provide funding for in vitro fertilization rally in front of Queen's Park on Monday. ((Mike Crawley/CBC))

A group representing more than 1,100 Ontario couples who need help conceiving a child rallied outside the provincial legislature Monday, the second annual Family Day holiday, to demand provincial funding for in vitro fertilization treatments.

Nearly 100 people came out to the rally, some pushing strollers with children conceived through IVF.

One of the demonstrators, Jane Evans, told the crowd how she has struggled to conceive for five years. 

"Even though the doctor told us that IVF would be our best option for having a baby we couldn't afford the $13,000 price tag," she said.

The Liberal government has commissioned two in-depth studies of the issue, both of which recommended the Ontario Health Insurance Plan cover the IVF treatments, which can cost up to $10,000 per cycle, said Joanne Horibe, co-founder of Conceivable Dreams.

"Infertility is a serious medical condition with huge economic, social and personal consequences," Horibe told the legislature's finance committee during recent pre-budget hearings.

"One in six Ontario couples struggles with infertility."

In vitro fertilization is one of the safest and most effective infertility treatments, said Horibe.

"It can control the number of embryos implanted, and therefore ensure that one healthy baby is delivered at a time," she said.

"Many Ontarians could conceive through the use of IVF, but the cost is beyond the financial reach of most families." Many couples undergo three rounds of IVF treatment, at a total cost of about $30,000, said Horibe, who postponed her own wedding to save money for the treatments.

"We spent tens of thousands of dollars on drugs and treatment and suffered disappointment and heartbreak to pursue our dream of having a family," she said.

Premier Dalton McGuinty made an election promise to help the more than 350,000 infertile couples in Ontario build a family, but nothing has been done despite two studies showing IVF funding would reduce multiple pre-term births, and save taxpayers' money in long-term health costs, said Horibe.

"Ontario could save $400 to $550 million over the next 10 years by tying public funding of IVF to more stringent criteria, limiting the number of embryos transferred, and therefore reducing the incidents of multiple births," she said.

"By providing upfront access to optimal, regulated infertility treatment, the government will avoid most of these back-end costs."

The government did not promise to fund in vitro fertilization treatments in its 2007 election campaign platform, said Health Minister Deb Matthews.

"What we promised to do is look at it, and that's exactly what we're in the middle of doing right now," Matthews said in an interview.

"No decision has been made."

Many infertile families resort to less effective and more dangerous alternatives to IVF, such as ovarian stimulation with hormone injections, to boost their odds of getting pregnant, said Horibe.

In Ontario, the rate of multiple births resulting from assisted reproduction technologies is estimated to be 27.5 per cent.

"These less-than-optimal treatments significantly increase the risk of multiple, pre-term births and severe medical and developmental problems," she said.

"The McGuinty government's expert panel concluded that public funding of IVF will not only improve the health of mothers and babies, but it will also reduce hospital and other health-care costs."

The expert panel made a good case for IVF funding, admitted Matthews, but the huge budget deficit will limit the government's ability to respond to the demand by Conceivable Dreams.

"They make a pretty compelling case that it's the right thing to do," said Matthews. "But we really do have to look at it in the context of the fiscal reality in which we're all living."

Health Minister Deb Matthews says the government has heard the arguments and is still reviewing whether to cover IVF through the provincial health insurance plan.