The business of IVF

On this Four Corners program, Sarah Dingle investigates claims that the IVF industry could be selling false hope to desperate would-be parents.

“All our savings go to IVF…Then you get that negative pregnancy result. There’s another $6,000 gone,” says Grace, one of the women interviewed.

Grace is one of the tens of thousands of Australian women who have put their faith in fertility treatments to help conceive a much longed for baby.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m a fraud of a woman. I look like one, but my body just isn’t doing what I want it to do, which is to fall pregnant and have a child,” she says.

At 42, she’s been through six unsuccessful rounds of IVF. The physical, emotional and financial toll, she says, is huge.

“One of the hardest things is knowing when to get off the bus, like knowing when to stop, because I think there’s that ‘what if it’s this next time’, one more time?”

Julia too, had dreams of becoming a mother, undergoing 8 rounds of fertility treatment.

“I had this longing to have a child …I was hopeful that I would be one of the lucky ones,” she says.

And while she willingly put her body in the hands of fertility specialists, she struggled to get a clear answer on just what her chances of having a baby actually were.

“It’s regrettable that I got the more optimistic answer. I would’ve just preferred a more accurate answer.”

This week’s Four Corners looks at the booming business of fertility, where the industry pulls in more than half a billion dollars in revenue, and asks whether clinics are giving women clear, unambiguous advice about their chances of giving birth.

“I think with the commercialisation of IVF that’s occurring, there’s a pressure in every single clinic to use IVF more and IVF brings in more money for a clinic,” a fertility doctor tells the programme.

Many fertility specialists say it’s up to individual women to decide how much treatment they can take.

“Embryos are like mud. You keep putting embryos on the wall of the uterus, eventually one will stick.”

But as this program shows, there are concerns, even from industry insiders, that some women undergoing IVF don’t actually need it. Others warn against the practice of upselling – where women are sold expensive and unproven treatments that one doctor says is akin to snake oil.

And disturbingly, they also have concerns about the potential harm fertility treatments could be causing for women – including potential links to cancer.

You can watch The Baby Business, reported by Sarah Dingle and presented by Sarah Ferguson, on ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.

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