May 30, 2024

Will IVF raise fertility in ageing societies?

Now that birth rates in most developed nations, with the exception of the
United States, are below replacement level, policy wonks everywhere are grasping
for ways to increase women’s fertility. One way touted by IVF clinics is
government subsidies to couples who use IVF.

Last year Rand Corporation
researchers contended that IVF and other assisted-reproductive technologies
could increase birth rates and help to offset the trend of population ageing.
They argued that if all infertile couples had access to IVF, the birth rate
would rise by 0.20 in Britain and 0.17 in Denmark – a hefty increase.

However, Dutch researchers have poured cold water on this optimistic estimate
in the latest issue of the journal Human Reproduction. It is based, they
say, on “inappropriate definitions and flawed assumptions”. Most couples who
have not had a child after a year of trying don’t need to resort to IVF, they
say. Previous research shows that many women have a child after 1, 2 or more
years, even without IVF, so subsidies would be wasted.

Furthermore, the IVF bump in birthrates in Britain and Denmark is due to
twins and triplets. But these are often premature and have significant health
problems. The costs of caring for these children could outweigh the benefits of
making IVF more available. “If governments would follow their recommendations,
this would have serious health consequences for mothers and children,” they say.

(A letter in the same issue from the Rand researchers denies most of these
allegations.) ~ Human Reproduction, August 2008