Thursday, November 05, 2009

Fertility Treatment - Cure or Business Model?

The current trend in fertility treatment is the use of IVF and ICSI. So much so, that here in Australia, about 4% of all children born have been created this way. Or to put it another way, there will be one IVF child in each classroom. That is quite a large number.
While the causes of this can be numerous, apart from leaving things too late, one of the larger causes can be genetic problems. For example microdeletions in the DNA can result in poor sperm formation or low counts. ICSI can solve the problem of not being able to conceive but it does not “really” solve infertility as the person is technically still infertile. The same can be said with maternal problems. These treatments may give a couple the baby they so desperately crave, but it does not cure their infertility.
And when the cause was genetic in the first place, these treatments have just created another person who will also be infertile. But I hear people say that that person can then also go on to have treatment themselves. The problem is that by creating one or more offspring that will already be infertile rather than have it develop through age, lifestyle factors, disease, environment (the list goes on), we are increasing the proportion of people in the population who are infertile. So rather than treating and ameliorating infertility all we are really doing is exacerbating the problem and thereby increasing the burden on an already strained public health system that subsidises these treatments.
For fertility clinics it is a fantastic way of ensuring you will have customers in the future. Not a bad business model indeed.