The IVF revolution is money badly spent

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BABIES are priceless, precious beings who can melt the hardest of hearts.

But they don't come cheaply, as any parent knows, even when they arrive on the scene with relatively little effort.

Sadly, about one in six couples find babies don't come to them easily, or at least without medical assistance.

I have enormous sympathy for people experiencing infertility, but, even so, the time has surely come for us to question just how much the public purse can stretch to help finance people in their quest to either become parents for the first time, or add to their existing brood.

No other country is as generous as Australia when it comes to pouring taxpayer dollars into the lucrative baby-making industry ... Medicare rebates cover the bulk of scheduled fees and the Medicare safety net kicks in to cover 80 per cent of out-of-pocket costs once a patient has spent just $1111.60 in any year (a mere $550 if you're getting family tax benefits).

What's more, patients can elect to have an unlimited number of fruitless IVF cycles subsidised ... Not surprisingly, the axe is hanging over the funding scheme for IVF as the Federal Government examines ways of reining in the annual $300 million safety net.

Access Australia, the main lobby group is gloating about its success in flooding Canberra with an orchestrated email protest campaign. Its use of language is enlightening:

it refers to "consumers" rather than patients.

IVF clinics are also exhorting potential patients ... to write protest letters to politicians and the media.

The IVF lobby wields enormous power and is used to winning, thanks to the emotional power of the issue. ....

In 1995, 1 per cent of babies born in Australia were the result of assisted reproductive technologies. In just a few years the figure jumped to 2 per cent and is now more than 3 per cent.

Let's consider some of the consequences. What are we getting for our money ... ?

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures reveal that in 2002, 27 per cent of these babies were born prematurely.

That means more than a quarter required expensive, taxpayer- subsidised neonatal care ...

As recently as 2005, the AIHW was made aware that the perinatal death rate was 7.3 deaths per 1000 births in even the most responsible forms of IVF - where a single embryo was implanted ...

And for those babies who do make it, the risks continue.

ICSI ... involves injecting the flawed sperm of an infertile man directly into a woman's egg. Medical evidence is mounting that sons conceived through ICSI inherit their father's infertility.

The problems with ICSI have been long known, though ... Belgian researchers canvassed studies proving the link between the procedure and congenital abnormalities in the children resulting from it.

All IVF carries risks for children ... a systematic review ... revealed a 30-40 per cent increase in birth defects when comparing IVF and ICSI babies with naturally conceived children.

The fact is that we are paying to create a faulty gene pool, turning Darwin's theory about survival of the fittest on its head.

What other species would be so foolish as to encourage this form of un-natural selection?

- This is a fair question to ask, and it also begs the question if any of the common interventions we accept in the child bearing process are justified.