British fertility expert, Robert Lord Winston, believes that fertility treatment should be cheaper, making it more easily available.

“Rather than trying to ration IVF too vigorously, look at ways it can be done more cheaply,” he told an audience of New Zealand parliamentarians and scientists.

Lord Winston was speaking in Wellington in his position as the 2004 Royal Society of New Zealand Distinguished Speaker. Lord Winston, who is professor of fertility studies at Imperial College School of Medicine, London University and heads the department of reproductive medicine at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, is well known for hosting several BBC television series.

In his Wellington talk, he argued that a lack of public funding kept fertility treatment expensive, but that academic research into refinements of IVF techniques could help make it less expensive. He also argued against any rationing of fertility treatment, particularly for women over 40 whose fertility was already naturally lower. “These are the very women who should be helped. They have trained and paid their taxes and now they are being abandoned.”

He told his New Zealand audience of the importance of screening for some genetic diseases, a technique known as pre[1]implantation genetic diagnosis or PGD, even though some people have concerns about the loss of fertilized eggs. “It seems to me that if we accept IVF which automatically losses fertilized eggs, as does contraception, then PGD is a perfectly ethical method.”

He also rejects the idea that children born after being screened for genetic diseases are “designer babies.” In fact, he points out the screening is done for only one aspect of a person’s makeup, leaving everything else to chance.

He also says that the devaluing of people with certain genetic diseases because of the availability of PGD is unlikely to occur, as there had been little evidence of this happening after introduction of abortion in the United Kingdom. In fact, he pointed out that many people seeking PGD did so because of their difficulties with the prospect of aborting a fetus with a genetic disease.

Lord Winston also addressed the issue of donor anonymity. He argued against enforced donor registration, suggesting that parents might then keep the information from the child. He preferred, he said, donor openness, without any mandatory requirement to be registered. Lord Winston also questioned whether knowing one’s biological heritage was that crucial. He pointed out that 8 pct of those in the Western world don’t know who their genetic fathers are.

From next year Britain plans to remove the anonymity of sperm, egg, and embryo donors within the UK, allowing those born this date to have the right to access identifying information about their donor. In New Zealand, the Law Commission has recently released a paper on the issues around legal parenthood. The New Zealand Parliament is currently considering proposed legislation on human-assisted reproductive technology.

Lord Winston also rejected the idea that fertility treatment should be seen as a treatment that was a private choice. Infertility, he said, was a symptom of an underlying disease and people with the condition have the right to be treated for this like anyone else. “People who have it are entitled to seek treatment because it causes them as much pain, if not more, as having an arthritic knee,” he said.

He argued that it was hard to deny those who wanted children. “Having a child is genuinely a life changing experience,” he said.

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