House debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Private Members' Business

In Vitro Fertilisation

12:01 pm

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges that 1 in 6 Australian families face difficulty when trying to start a family and for many this is not straightforward;

(2) notes that this is a very distressing time for couples who face both emotional and financial strain throughout this journey;

(3) further acknowledges the significant investment made by the Government in helping Australian couples start a family using In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) by:

(a) the establishment of the Your IVF Website which helps couples navigate the complicated process of IVF, have an informed understanding of their chance of success and enable them to make the right decisions for them; and

(b)investing $95.9 million for new tests on the Medicare Benefits Schedule for pre-IVF genetic testing for embryos for specific genetic or chromosomal abnormalities prior to implantation and pregnancy; and

(4) affirms the commitment of the House to help Australian couples achieve their goal of experiencing the joys of parenthood.

I think that each of us has a responsibility when we come to this place to bring our own unique experiences and backgrounds to the parliament to help shine a light on issues and to help progress change, and it's with this in mind that I present this motion today. Trying for a family is a joyous experience for many, many couples, but for other couples it doesn't just happen, as people like to say. In fact, it's a very tough process. It's very gruelling. It puts a strain on relationships and your mental health. It takes an emotional toll and also a financial toll on some couples. It's a journey worth making, of course, but, when a couple is finding it hard to conceive, it's often a lonely journey and there is stigma around discussing your fertility issues. It's something that many people don't tell their employers or their friends or even their family.

My wife and I went through this ourselves. We went through many rounds of IVF, and it was very, very tough. We are incredibly blessed that it worked out well for us. We have two beautiful children. My son, Theo, will turn four next week—so happy birthday, mate—and my beautiful daughter, Isabelle, turned one on Tuesday—so happy birthday, sweetie, to you as well. For us it turned out well and we are one of the success stories, but I often think about those couples for whom it doesn't always work out well. My wife and I have made our journey with IVF public, not because we enjoy talking about it—quite the opposite. We are very private people and we kept it a very private journey for a long, long time. But we've made the decision to talk about our journey with IVF and with miscarriage in the hope that we could progress discussions around change and try to achieve more support for families going through the same thing.

One in six couples will face difficulties starting a family, so it is a very common occurrence. What is needed, of course, is more information and support for couples that go through this. I am proud to be part of the Morrison government, which has recognised this and made it a priority over a number of budgets now, including in the most recent budget, the 2021-22 budget.

We've established the YourIVFSuccess website. This website provides clear, trusted information to help Australian couples decide if IVF treatment is right for them and to find the right clinic that suits them. It helps couples estimate their likelihood of success based on the most up-to-date data depending on their age and circumstances. It allows them to understand the journey they are embarking on before they start and to learn about the different types of IVF cycles and treatments that they will be faced with. It allows couples to search for an IVF clinic in their areas and to see the service availability, the type of patients they treat and their success rates versus the national average. The access to this information will, I believe, lead to a far more informed choice for couples to help them manage their expectations around time frames, financial impacts and, ultimately, success. This is so important. People think that IVF is very advanced, and it is very advanced science—it's miraculous what we can achieve these days—but it is still a little bit more art than it is science, and couples need to understand what they're embarking on. We have to do more in this space, but this tool is very welcome.

The Morrison government is also investing $95.9 million for new tests on the Medicare Benefits Schedule for pre-IVF genetic testing for embryos for specific genetic and chromosomal abnormalities prior to implantation and pregnancy. More Australian couples will get access to free pre-pregnancy screening as the government invests tens of millions of dollars in this new technology to help eradicate life-threatening genetic conditions. For couples who are going through this right now, my message to you is: you are not alone. You should talk about it. You should talk to your friends and family, share that journey, do it together and seek the information that is available to you.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

12:06 pm

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. There are few things that unite this chamber more than a love of family. Indeed, I believe all Australians and, beyond Australia, all cultures of the world share that love of family. I myself was very fortunate to be born the ninth child and so brought up in a very large family. My wife, Sophia, and I have two precious little ones. I know, as the member for Ryan has laid out, the joy that you have as a parent. Indeed, when my little three-year-old was born, we had hoped so much for a child and we ourselves as a couple had great difficulty and experienced some of the challenges that the member for Ryan laid out. Thank God we have technology available to us. When you look at the face of a beautiful little boy or a beautiful little girl who has come into this world with the assistance of technology that did not exist many years ago, you cannot help, as a person of faith as I am, but be deeply touched and grateful to God to have that life right there in front of you.

But, of course, there are so many couples in this country who go through the toughest of challenges: the highs with the excitement of knowing that a pregnancy is there, the excitement a couple feels when they know there's a chance that a little life is going to come into their world, a little boy or a little girl for whom they have been hoping and praying, only to see a miscarriage take that life away and strip that couple of hope. It is completely understandable how couples fall into depression, anger and a raft of emotions. We cannot have the situation where people feel as though they have some sort of obligation to carry on as if nothing had taken place—to toughen up and get back to work. Only those who have struggled to have a child understand the emotional anguish involved in their efforts.

I often feel most for those who are never successful. I'm sure there's not one person in this chamber who doesn't have someone in their life they know is unable, for whatever reason, to have children. I find they are the most brave people and the most loving of people. More often than not they are the very ones who will put their arms around other's children. Yet they themselves, for whatever reason, have been incapable of bringing a life into this world.

I suspect that the member for Ryan's motion today is one that unites this chamber, as it would unite all Australians. He laid out the interesting statistic that one in six couples go through this. If you think of any crowd of people at any event, you don't start trying to guess statistics in this regard, but needless to say at any party or any public event there are so many people who have gone through the struggle of miscarriage and have relied on IVF, some successfully and some not. As a parliament and a government—not just this one but governments in the future—it is incumbent on us amidst our public duties to be mindful of those who have carried that load and to provide whatever assistance we can in recognition of that through which they've gone.

12:12 pm

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a mother of two wonderful children—and many of my colleagues in parliament will agree—the joys of being a parent trumped all other feelings. I certainly won't undersell the difficulties that come with being a parent. Thankfully my journey to become a parent was easy in comparison to some. Sadly, there are many young couples who are struggling to start a family. In fact, I want to acknowledge the one in six Australian couples who are facing the emotional turmoil that comes with the difficulty they are having in conceiving.

There are medical processes that help to increase the chance of conception for these couples in the form of in-vitro fertilisation, or IVF as it is commonly known, but this process can be hugely expensive, which can be a very serious and distressing burden for couples desperately wanting to have their own family. The Morrison government understand the impact that this process can have on young couples. We also understand that not all Australians will have clear knowledge of the IVF process and the success rates associated with their personal attributes.

We want Australians, who may often find themselves in deeply emotionally vulnerable situations when seeking treatment, to be well informed of the journey they are undertaking and the risks and costs associated with it. With this in mind the website YourIVFSuccess was built. It was officially launched on 15 February 2021. It provides an individual IVF success estimator tool, allowing individuals to estimate their chances of IVF success through the input of individual characteristics and IVF history. This tool can become instrumental in a couple's decision to continue pursuing further treatment.

The tool currently works by allowing women to enter their individual characteristics, including how many IVF cycles they have undergone and whether they are using a fresh or frozen embryo, to estimate their chances of becoming pregnant. The website also provides independent and impartial information about nearly all fertility clinics in Australia, including the clinics' success rates, to help couples in their decision-making. A further stage of the project will also allow men to estimate their chances of IVF success through their website in the future.

We must not forget that IVF is a relatively recent breakthrough and the technology will take time to fully mature. In the interim, we need to ensure that those using the technology are sufficiently informed when engaging it. By giving people the necessary information, we can help them protect themselves against unscrupulous practitioners who may wish to take advantage of those families that have an extremely low chance of conceiving but a determined and informed desire to keep trying.

On 9 May 2021 the Morrison government demonstrated its continued support for assisted reproductive technologies, and those using them, through its announcement of $99.5 million for new tests on the Medical Benefits Schedule for pre-implementation genetic testing for embryos. Our government will never stop caring about families and those who want to start a family. Our commitment to those Australians is unwavering and steadfast. We will never stop working for their right and their freedom to have a family. I thank the member for Ryan for this wonderful motion.

12:17 pm

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on behalf of the issue raised by the member for Ryan and the importance of IVF in Australia. Like many of my colleagues I have a number of children—four, in fact. I remember when I fell pregnant to my eldest daughter, Sophia, in 2005 and how exciting that was and how easy that was for us. Becoming a parent is a dream for so many Australians. But, for a significant number, it is not always an easy journey, with one in six Australian families facing difficulty when trying to start a family. I would like to acknowledge all those Australians who are currently experiencing difficulty with fertility and how difficult that is.

Infertility is caused by a range of factors. Technically, it is a condition where you cannot fall pregnant after trying for one year. In women, infertility is brought on by difficulties with ovulation. But there are many factors, including the age of the parents; tubal disease or problems with fallopian tubes and ovulation disorders. Endometriosis is commonly associated with infertility as are polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibroids and other inflammatory diseases caused by sexually transmitted diseases. In men, fertility problems may be associated with low sperm count or low testosterone. In vitro fertilisation is more than just a process of fertilisation; it gives people hope and the opportunity to become a parent. Without this assistance, they wouldn't be able to become a parent. I'm very proud to support the motion put forward by the member for Ryan and acknowledge all those Australian families who are experiencing infertility.

Everyone knows somebody who has experienced infertility. In my family, my aunt and uncle tried for a decade and went through many miscarriages as a consequence. As a psychologist, I have come across many families who have experienced infertility. I have seen the shame and the guilt associated with infertility. I've also seen the grief in families, individuals and couples following having experienced recurrent miscarriages. The loss of life is always very, very difficult for people to go through. This impacts on people's relationships and mental health.

The world's first IVF pregnancy was reported in 1973. The first IVF baby in Australia, which was the world's third IVF baby, was born in 1980 under the supervision of the team of doctors at Monash University. Following this, the team at Monash established a further 14 pregnancies, resulting in nine live births before the end of 1981. Since then, science and technology has progressed significantly. I'd like to acknowledge our scientists in Australia, the incredible work that our fertility doctors do in this space and how important science and technology is to the future of our country. In 2018 in Australia just under 15,000 babies were born to IVF. The technology is robust and incredible, and so many babies and families have benefited from this technology ever since its inception.

Our government is committed to helping families, and in February this year the YourIVFSuccess website was successfully launched. The website provides an individual IVF success estimator tool, allowing individuals to estimate their chances of IVF success through the input of individual characteristics and IVF history. It currently allows women to enter their individual characteristics, including how many IVF cycles they have undergone and whether they are using a fresh or frozen embryo, to estimate their chances of becoming pregnant. But the creation of new life is not a woman's journey alone, and a further stage of the project will also allow men to estimate their chances of IVF success through the same website. The website also provides independent and impartial information about nearly all fertility clinics in Australia, including the clinic success rates, to help couples in their decision-making. This excellent initiative is possible in part through a $4.6 million Medical Research Future Fund grant to the University of New South Wales.

12:22 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd also like to thank and acknowledge the member for Ryan for bringing this very important motion to this chamber. As we all know, the journey to parenthood for many is not as straightforward as many would hope. One in six Australian families face difficulty when trying to start a family, and it can be so challenging on relationships. I know many in this chamber would know people who have been through the challenges of IVF. It's a cycle of hope, followed by failure, followed by hope and, for some, the joy of delivering a new baby.

It can be incredibly challenging on relationships. I know of people who haven't been able to maintain their relationship through the difficulties faced when one or both are infertile, and then dealing with the consequences of the very stressful difficulties of IVF. What I would say is that there is hope for so many couples because of the many fantastic scientific discoveries that have been made around the world with regard to IVF. Many Australians turn to in-vitro fertilisation, more commonly known as IVF, so that they, too, can have the joys of being parents. Australians deserve this experience.

I want to say a few comments about what in-vitro fertilisation is. It's a process of fertilisation where an egg is combined with sperm outside of the body in vitro, which is Latin for 'in glass'. The process involves monitoring and stimulating a person's ovulatory process, and that requires medication and careful monitoring. Of course, sometimes I think women can feel that that is a very difficult process to go through. An egg is removed from the ovaries and then fertilised with sperm in a culture medium in a laboratory. Then the fertilised egg undergoes embryo culture for two to six days, is implanted into the uterus and, hopefully, results in a successful pregnancy.

It took years and decades of scientific endeavour to reach what was an incredible discovery of a marvellous technology in July 1978, with Louise Brown being the first child successfully born after her mother received IVF treatment in the UK. Ms Brown was born as a result of natural cycle IVF, where no stimulation is made. The procedure took place in Dr Kershaw's Cottage Hospital, now Dr Kershaw's Hospice, in Royton, Oldham, in England.

Robert G Edwards, the physiologist who co-developed the treatment together with Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2010. Jean Purdy was the embryologist and nurse who was the first to see Brown's embryo divide. It must have been an incredible thing to look through a microscope after hoping for years to see this natural process take place. Unfortunately, Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy were not eligible for consideration for the Nobel Prize, as they had died and were not allowed to be awarded this amazing prize posthumously. But it is worth noting. It's an incredible scientific achievement and something that the world should be very grateful for.

I met Robert G Edwards when he was a professor at the University of Cambridge, in the Department of Physiology, where I did my Bachelor of Medical Science degree under the guidance of Professor Abigail Fowden. I did some research in fetal physiology, and I went to the clinic where the IVF procedure was first undertaken. It was a great privilege to meet an extraordinary giant in this area of scientific endeavour.

I'd also like to note that there was some incredible work undertaken here by Carl Wood, who has now passed on but was known to my parents. He went through medical school with my father. I'd also like to note the wonderful work undertaken by Professor Alan Trounson, who I acknowledged in a speech in the House earlier this week. He has been awarded an AO this year for his work in embryo research and fertilisation and, more recently, stem cell research. I note that Robert G Edwards was on the Daily Telegraph's list of 100 greatest living geniuses in 2007. Such was the remarkable feat achieved in the work that he and his team undertook to help those who were having to deal with incredibly difficult times.

Australians deserve to experience the great joy of parenthood, and that's why the Morrison government is making significant investments in helping Australian couples start families using IVF. There's been a significant investment in funding, including in the Medical Research Future Fund grant of $4.6 million for the establishment of the YourIVFSuccess website earlier this year. This website is incredibly important for helping individuals gain access to the success estimator tool. It also provides independent and impartial information for families. I commend the government for its work in this area.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.