People seeking infertility treatments such as IVF should be better screened to ensure they are fit to parent, an Australian psychologist says.
In a controversial presentation to the Fertility Society of Australia’s conference next week, Margaret Van Keppel will discuss who should be denied infertility treatment ”in the best interests of a future child”.
On Friday, the infertility counselor said some people, such as those with severe depression or a psychotic illness, may not be suitable for treatment because their health could put a child at risk. This could also apply to people with a serious drug addiction or those with a violent criminal history, she said.
“My view is that we need to create a risk assessment culture across all assisted reproduction clinics where the prospective child is thought of as the third patient,” said Ms Van Keppel, who works at PIVET Medical Centre – an infertility treatment clinic in Perth.
to be raised in families that are safe, secure and stable, free from violence and abuse, and protected from harm.”
While all Australian IVF clinics are meant to consider the best interests of a child born through assisted reproduction under a code of practice administered by the FSA and the Reproductive Technology Accreditation Committee, Ms Van Keppel said this was extremely difficult in practice.
“The practice of assisted reproductive technology has become increasingly patient- centered in that we are often too easily swayed by the patient’s urgency and desire to have a child. We assume that because a couple is so keen to achieve their dream of parenthood that they will be good and competent parents. Having also worked in adoption and child protection, I know that this can be a dangerous assumption,” she said.
While Ms Van Keppel said clinics should assess people’s criminal, medical and psychological history, as well as relationships and ”availability to parent” as part of a risk assessment, she would recommend denying treatment only in cases where a child could be at serious risk.
”I’m not just talking about somebody who downs a bottle of wine a night … that would be a debatable point,” she said.
Sandra Dill, chief executive of Access Australia, a group that represents infertile people, said screening for treatment based on fitness to parent was discrimination. She said if authorities were concerned about child protection, they should check every new parent walking out of a hospital with a baby.
”Where is the duty of care to the person who is alive and sitting opposite them across the desk?” she said.
Sheryl de Lacey, associate professor of nursing and midwifery at Flinders University who specialists in assisted reproductive treatment, said although it might be appropriate to delay treatment for some people in extreme cases, it was important to uphold people’s rights to healthcare.
”It’s putting the cart before the horse,” she said. ”You can’t really assess parenting competencies before there is a child. There may not even be a child.”
At the moment, Victoria is the only state in Australia where people have to produce a criminal history report and child protection order check before they can have assisted reproductive treatment.
If they have been convicted of a sexual or violent offence, or have had a child removed from their custody or guardianship, they will be denied treatment. However, these decisions can be appealed through the Victorian government’s Patient Review Panel or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
by JULIA MEDEW