Sunday, May 01, 2005

IVF in Australia

The Australian Government based on a proposal by the Minister for Health, Tony Abbot, is considering capping the rebates on the number of IVF cycles for women over 42. This reform attempt has got me really bloody peeved and quite worked up. These are the concerns and observations I have about this proposal.

- There have been an increasing number of incursions by the government to regulate and control what women can and should be doing as "reproductive" members of society.
- This recent proposal is divisive and like many of the Federal government's reform policies creates discord within sections of the populace that would otherwise not have had disparate positions by producing an emotional and competitive discourse whereby an extremely narrow 'normative' body and lifestyle is justified against which all other modes of being and bodies are excluded.
- In addition to being about women's bodies, who and how these should be controlled, this is also an issue about Australia's health system, and about how we define what is an elective and non-elective treatment.

Highlighting some of the internal inconsistencies and ruptures of a piece in the Comments section of the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday April 29th reveals some of these issues at work. In her comment piece, Hilary Burden, addresses all women readers in her claim that "If you have trouble conceiving, don't be surprised, don't ask for handouts and don't think it's the end of the world". According to Burden, women are not only arrogant but also selfish and naive to assume that the government will cover the cost of repeated cycles of IVF once over 42. After dishing out on women, all women apparently, as there are no specific references to any actual quotes by women or women's groups on this issue, only a reference to something Emma Thompson once remarked, she ends by saying that no women should "be made to feel they are dependent on what they produce or don't produce with their bodies. In an overpopulated world, you don't have to have a baby to learn how to labour or live."

Hilary is having trouble making sense of all of this. It's "just weird maths", she states, that the Government gives "couples $3000 for having a baby on the one hand and then reduce their chances of having one on the other."

One of the reasons why Hilary is having trouble understanding this is because she is reacting from a position of being a woman who is struggling to be valued in her own right as a productive member of society without necessarily being a reproductive member of society. Unfortunately Hilary, by taking this stance, is colluding with the Federal government's policies, harming her own cause and those of other women who have a broader and more inclusive position that women who choose to work, women who choose to work and have children and women who choose to have children are all deserving of being valued and supported.

In fact, the inconsistency of the Government's stance on these two issues shows the consistency of their belief that underpins all their policies on women's re-productive and productive labour, the notion that only some bodies and only some modes of being in bodies are acceptable and normal and therefore should be supported by Government funding. For though the Australian government is trying to address what it sees as a growing problem of reduced birth rates, leading to an ageing work force, by encouraging reproduction, the social model for achieving this is not simply to make having children and bringing up children easier to all members of society but to reform the social conditions themselves, so that it is made easier only within certain very narrow parameters, i.e. by being young and by being legally infertile. What this excludes are the many choices and conditions under which either of these two parameters are not viable, such as working for the early part of one's life or due to a phsyiological condition which reduces the likelihood of being able to achieve pregnancy without assistance.

And so, finally to my ultimate concern, about Australia's health system. These parameters of eligibility are maintained by making IVF treatments financially inaccessible, and therefore unavailable, to those who fall outside of the narrow definition. Burden asks, "Why is it so bad to be given three attempts at having another child, and after that, you pay for it yourself. Raise the $10,000 amongst your kin..."

Because by supporting access of only those women who are under 42 and legally infertile, to a comprehensive IVF treatment plan, we are not just reducing the overall rates of successful pregnancy, we are reducing the social and life options of all women in Australian society, and impoverishing the diversity of our culture.

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