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Monday, November 2, 1998 Published at 20:35 GMT


IVF: the drawbacks

Infertility: "the triumph of science over sterility"?

Infertility treatment is expensive, traumatic, not very successful and could ultimately be dangerous, argues Catherine Bennett.

Since the birth of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, 21 years ago, around 30,000 babies have been born by IVF in the UK alone.

Only 18% of IVF treatment is funded by the NHS and it costs around £2,500 for couples who go private.

Catherine Bennett argues that the benefits of IVF have been distorted by the media.

She says it has made some infertility doctors into media stars because of the impact of miracle baby stories.

But she says IVF only has a 15% success rate.

"The clinics make most of their money out of failure," she states.

Live birth rate

Not all IVF clinics are equally good and the Human Fertilistation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) publishes statistics to help couples make informed choices.

However, Catherine Bennett says most people probably don't know of the HFEA's existence and rely on the clinics' information which can confuse them.

The information they need concerns the clinics' live birth rate.

[ image: Dr Simon Fishel: 'some clinics may leave out information that disadvantages them']
Dr Simon Fishel: 'some clinics may leave out information that disadvantages them'
Ms Bennett says the clinics' figures often differ from the HFEA's because they use other statistics or interpret them differently.

Dr Simon Fishel of the Centres for Assisted Reproduction Ltd says: "Perhaps they deliberately leave out information which is disadvantageous to them or they offer a definition which is different from the one they are legally obliged to give to the HFEA."


Angela Richardson, who is on her fifth attempt at IVF, says the side effects of the daily drug doses she takes include depression, hot flushes and dizziness.

Another drawback of IVF, according to Ms Bennett, is that around a third of couples have twins or triplets because doctors implant several embryos into the woman to maximise her chances of success.

The unexpected arrival of triplets can be a nightmare, she argues.

Jane Denton of the Multiple Births Foundation says triplets may also be more likely to have illnesses, such as cerebral palsy.

Several women who find they are carrying triplets as a result of IVF decide to abort one or more babies.

This can be extremely traumatic.

One woman who has had a foetus aborted tells Catherine Bennett: "It is very, very upsetting after going to such extremes to get pregnant in the first place."


And there are also women who believe overstimulation of the ovaries through IVF may cause ovarian cancer.

Liz Tiberis, author of 'No Time to Die', believes her ovarian cancer was a result of nine attempts at IVF.

[ image: Introcytoplasmic sperm injection could endanger the baby]
Introcytoplasmic sperm injection could endanger the baby
Ian Jacobs, director of the gynaecological research unit at Barts' Hospital, says there is no proof one way or the other that IVF increases a woman's risk of getting cancer.

However, he believes women should be warned that there is a possible risk.

But Professor Lord Robert Winston, a leading infertility expert, says it is "unwise" to raise the spectre of cancer unnecessarily when there is no proven risk.

Small minority

Finally, there are also concerns that a new variation of IVF - introcytoplasmic sperm injection - may cause genetic damage to the unborn child.

Catherine Bennett says the problem with IVF is that doctors are "not very good at it".

Professor Ian Craft of the London Gynaecology and Fertility Centre agrees that only "a small minority" of people who go through IVF treatment are successful.

He says there should be ways for couples to accept that they cannot have a child "in an honourable way".

"Before IVF people accepted their lot because they couldn't do anything about it. Now they question it," he said.

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