All children inevitably ask where they come from. One potential mother is going to have a harder job than most.
“Well darling, your father committed suicide and I had to get a court order to retrieve his sperm within twenty four hours of his death. Then I had to get another court order to use the sperm. And that’s how you were born.”
Last week one woman’s bid to access her dead husband’s sperm was granted by Supreme Court Justice James Edelman, paving the way to allow West Australian women to access their dead husbands’ sperm without a court order.
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Hundreds of Australians die every year because of overcrowded hospitals. Children with disabilities struggle to get the help and equipment they need. Public schools are under-resourced. We don’t have a magic uber-highway to zip us around the country at the speed of sound.
And yet we’re spending taxpayer’s cash on IVF for women in their 50s. Riddle me that.
The news that a 60-year-old gave birth is the sort of thing that sees some people shudder while others are all high-fives and ‘you go girlfriend’ excited.
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As a disabled feminist, I’m often asked about my views on medical procedures like pre-natal screening and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD (where IVF embryos are screened for genetic characteristics).
Tests for some conditions, such as Down Syndrome, have become par for the course in recent years, and the list of conditions routinely screened for is growing all the time.
Most people accept that the purpose of such procedures and techniques is to identify and eliminate genetic conditions by terminating foetuses affected by them or, in the case of PGD, select embryos that are unaffected by the conditions for implantation and intended pregnancy.
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Overnight news broke Swedish doctors have made a startling breakthrough in fertility treatment, by transplanting the functioning wombs of two women into their own adult daughters.
They’ll now give the new uteruses a year to settle in before trying for pregnancies with IVF. It’s an incredible medical development, that will give some infertile women hope they will one day become biological mothers.
The clinical director of women’s health at Westmead Hospital in Sydney Dr Andrew Pesce told ABC radio this morning: “It’s obviously emotionally a much more powerful and strong bond and experience if the woman carries the baby herself. I think it’s not possible to anticipate yet that such women could give birth naturally.”
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A couple of years back I met a woman who had had quadruplets through an IVF program 24 years ago. I was delighted to find that all four babies were now healthy young people but amazed to find out that I had actually conducted the embryo transfer and had implanted all four embryos inside her womb.
IVF has certainly changed over the past 30 years in that things that were acceptable then are no longer practiced today – like implanting multiple embryos.
The most significant change over the past 30 years has been the improvement in IVF success rates; the clinic at which I work rarely implants more than one embryo and has a multiple pregnancy rate below 4 per cent, as compared to 40 per cent 25 years ago
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When I gave birth to my second gorgeous son six weeks ago, the first question some asked when they heard our happy news was: “So are you going to try again for a girl?”
Umm, how about you give the epidural time to wear off and let me enjoy my beautiful, healthy baby boy before telling me that somehow my world is not complete because I have only produced babies featuring both an X and Y chromosome.
Admittedly I have only had two children of the same sex, not seven like Tumut couple Andrew and Jodi McMahon who appeared on 60 Minutes on Sunday night documenting their desperate bid for a baby girl.
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There is no ‘right’ to have a child. This seems a callous thing to say, but wrapping any conversation about children up in cuddly pink fleece-lined jumpsuits doesn’t help what has to be a serious policy debate.
While it must be devastating for couples who, for whatever reason, are unable to conceive, there are limits to society’s obligations to help them. Like most controversial health decisions, this is a tale of clashing rights and finite resources.
Last year the Federal Government made changes to the Medicare Safety Net, effectively capping the amount they would pay out for assisted reproductive treatments.
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After nine years of trying to conceive, Manchester couple Lesley and John Brown gave birth to Louise, the world’s first test tube baby, this week in 1978. A newspaper paid £300,000 for the family’s story, which inspired thousands of people. By the time Louise was 21 in 1999, hundreds of thousands of women had concieved using IVF. That same year, Louise’s younger sister Natalie became the first IVF baby to in turn conceive - Louise followed soon after, giving birth to a son in 2004.
Welcome to Tuesday at The Punch. What’s on your mind? Share it here.
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Ninety-four year old actress Zsa Zsa Gabor’s ninth husband, Prince Frederik von Anhalt, reportedly wants her to have a baby using his sperm, a donor egg and a surrogate mother. Yes, he does. He visited a Beverley Hills fertility clinic for sperm analysis and blood work.
There have been no reports of him also having his head read; however, Gabor’s daughter, 64-year-old Francesca Hilton (a product of Gabor’s second marriage to hotel magnate, Conrad Hilton) has denounced the story as the latest in a string of wild publicity stunts by her seventh step-father.
And while the Gabor-Anhalts gallivant around celebrity baby clinics (if gallivanting is possible when you are just shy of a century, with a partially-amputated leg), my friend – a single mum of two young children – has announced that she has successfully battled cancer at the age of 38. Facing her own mortality, she had to put in place a plan for the care of her children, which involved her parents and her sisters.
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In Victoria alone, almost 500 single women and lesbians have used IVF and other fertility treatments since a law change in January last year made it easier. Some see this rise in fatherless parenting as a violation of children’s rights. Others say kids can cope without dads - although they still need male role models. Susie O’Brien’s story is in the Herald Sun today and she will be blogging live.
Do we really need dads?
Absolutely. In an ideal world all children would grow up with both male and female adults to care for them.
But in the absence of a father, a father figure who might be a close male relative or family friend can do the job just as well. It just takes time, love and commitment.
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Should we play God? It’s time we dumped that question. It only shows how deluded we are about where we’ve already got to.
Playing God is taking over responsibility for the things that once could only be committed to prayer, ritual and trust in the Almighty – the things that couldn’t be controlled, including most things to do with the health of you and those you loved.
You become responsible for what was just “in God’s hands”. A hazard of life becomes a risk you accept. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the matter of starting a family.
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My attempts to write something in response to news that a Victorian couple - desperate for a daughter - had aborted twin boys conceived through IVF, met repeatedly with failure. I had a dental abscess when the story broke and I couldn’t think about the scenario without gnashing my teeth.
In the end, I had to stop writing, take two Nurofen Plus, lie on the couch and watch inane TV to calm down.
Toddlers and Tiaras would do the trick, I thought, wrongly.
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A Melbourne couple’s decision to abort twin boys conceived through IVF – the weekend’s flashpoint news story – is a can of worms, a hornets’ nest and a Mandelbrot set of ethical complexity all in one.
The couple, after the death of their first baby girl, wasn’t happy with the twins’ gender and is now in the midst of legal action to pre-determine the sex of their next IVF baby.
Which, you might be surprised to learn, we can do nowadays. Some medical industry smart arse has even rebranded it ‘family balancing’.
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Call me a bit of an idealistic Charlotte from Sex & The City, but if I have experienced something amazing, I want the world to experience it too.
So now I am a mum, I’d love the whole world to experience the joy of motherhood, particularly the women who are having difficulty falling pregnant. That’s why I am so supportive of IVF. Strangers (even friends who have dared not ask for fear it’s too private) assume I had my twins via IVF. I did not. And I would be willing to shout it from the rooftops if I had.
I have seen people close to me finally get their wish to be a parent thanks to this miraculous medical procedure. A few of the beautiful mums in my twin prenatal class had their multiples thanks to IVF and I know just how eternally grateful they are that the procedure exists.
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One in six people in this country will encounter problems conceiving and need medical assistance to have a child.
It’s a startling figure and it probably explains why most of us know someone who has struggled to start or add to a family.
In the past there was little that could be done for these couples, but thankfully science has provided options that many only dreamed of previously. Sadly it seems the Government is about to take those options away from many Australians.
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