Lifestyle

Where IVF babies come from

TEST TUBE BABIES: Fertility solutions unit manager Denise Donati in the clinic at Nambour.
TEST TUBE BABIES: Fertility solutions unit manager Denise Donati in the clinic at Nambour. Nicola Brander

CONCEPTION: the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism.

This clinical definition probably had a very physical reality when you were conceived.

Maybe you were created on mum and dad's old feather bed? Maybe in the back seat of a car?

Today there is an increasing chance the baby you see in a stroller at the supermarket was created at an IVF clinic on the Sunshine Coast.

A lot has changed since the world's first test tube baby, Louise Joy Brown was born on July 25, 1978, nearly 34 years ago.

The British birth was heralded by some as a miracle and others, including the Vatican, as something to be feared.

But with the science firmly established, demand has sky-rocketed, not just for couples struggling to conceive.

Same-sex couples, singles and post-menopausal woman have all accessed this technology to help create their own special "little miracle".

In 2010, it was estimated four million people worldwide were born using IVF.

While IVF has increasingly become a routine procedure, a certain amount of controversy remains, particularly around the anonymous donation of sperm.

The latest is the small, but real risk, of two young people falling in love and only discovering after their child has been born with a defect that they are closely related.

IVF Australia has established a new register called Donor Siblinks to help donor-conceived children check their genetic links.

But access to the program is only available to children born at an IVF Australia clinic and joining the program is voluntary.

Adding to the complication is that a large number of donor babies were created using American sperm.

IVF Sunshine Coast clinical director Dr James Moir said his clinic relied solely on sperm from America.

"We had problems recruiting donors from Australia fullstop really," Dr Moir said.

Couples have had two options - access their own known donor or use "anonymous donor sperm access through our clinic in Brisbane, which comes from America."

Dr Moir said this had an advantage as "it would limit the chance of any sort of close relative problem".

Nambour's Fertility Solutions director and unit manager Denise Donati strongly disagreed with the practice.

She said presentations at the 14th World Congress on Human Reproduction, held in Melbourne last November, were also not supportive.

"Wendy Kramer of the Donor Sibling Register in America, from where some of the donor sperm is imported to Australia, says that some sperm banks in America treated donor families unethically and that it is time to consider new legislation," Ms Donati said.

Her clinic, which also has an office in Bundaberg, has instead focused on finding local sperm donors.

"At Fertility Solutions we are more focused on being able to facilitate future contact between the donor and any offspring and do not believe that importing donor semen from overseas supports this," she said.

Adding to her resolve to source local sperm donors was the account by Ms Kramer of an American Woman, Cynthia Daily, who discovered her donor had helped create 150 children "and more are on the way".

"This is unacceptable" she said.

"How can Australian clinics who are importing donor sperm be absolutely sure that the criteria set down by the NHMRC and FSA is being met?

"It's not a chance that we are willing to take."

While there are limits on the number of families a donor can create - a maximum of 10 - there is no definite way to check the donor doesn't fudge forms and make deposits all over the country.

The hard part remains finding people willing to donate.

Even with American sperm IVF Sunshine Coast still has a waiting list.

Ms Donati has launched a new recruitment drive, using bus advertising on the Sunshine Coast, to try to make more men consider the option.

At the moment, they have between "four and five local donors".

No money can be made from sperm donation, but the clinic does pay a total of $450 for "out-of-pocket expenses".

The clinic also encourages donors to agree to being available to meet the family sooner rather than later.

"The law allows children to access information about the donor when they are 18. We encourage this to happen sooner."

She believed the policy of allowing donor linking of sibling families should be "Australia-wide" and should be compulsory.

"You have to consider the children as well," she said.

>> Read more lifestyle stories.

Topics:  babies, fertility, ivf, lifestyle, parenting


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