Obese IVF rejection questioned
Reproductive medicine experts say there can be an element of ‘fat-shaming’ in IVF treatment.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advises doctors not to provide obese women with IVF or assisted reproduction techniques.
But Professor Kelton Tremellen - a fellow of the college – has called for a revision of the treatment guidelines, as he believes the ban is unwarranted.
“What I'd like is a more refined view on this, that we don't just have a blanket cut-off for patients who have a BMI [body mass index] over 35, where we say we're not treating you,” he told the ABC.
“We should instead look at how healthy they are — other co-morbidities like high blood pressure, diabetes and such that pose extra risks to the patient — and how successful have they been in the past at losing weight,” he said.
Professor Tremellen said doctors could be doing harm by refusing help.
“We're brought up as doctors to first do no harm. Some doctors are concerned that if they give a patient treatment and a harm were to come to them, they've done an evil,” he said.
“But they need to recognise that there's harm in doing nothing. Women who are unable to have children, there's a much higher risk of depression and anxiety and a doubling in the suicide rate. So doing nothing is not necessarily doing the best thing.”
The practice could even be considered a form of discrimination.
“Especially when you consider the low socio-economic group,” he said.
“The Indigenous patients have a lot higher incidents of obesity than the general population, so you're almost discriminating against those two disadvantaged groups in this particular policy.
“Obviously that wasn't the original intent, but that is a potential end product of that.”
Medical director of IVF Australia, Peter Illingworth, agreed there is room to move.
“I think there has been a problem in the past with women with serious weight problems being fat-shamed,” he said.
“There is no doubt that women who are overweight face a series of risks and problems, both for themselves and their children.
“There is no doubt that it's very important for women who have a weight problem to do whatever they can to reduce that weight before they try to conceive. The health risks of being overweight are undoubted.
“However, on the other hand, there are many women who struggle to lose weight, and despite surgery and despite very intense efforts to try and manage their weight, find themselves unable to do so.
“I think that the central point made of this paper is a very valid one: that women should not be denied access to fertility treatments simply because they have a weight problem.”