In the lead-up to the 2016 Assisted Reproductive Technology Summit we spoke to Sandra Dill AM about surrogacy and infertility, and her work with AccessAustralia. Sandra is a consumer advocate for equity of access to patient-centred healthcare achieved through ethical, evidence-based legislation and shared responsibility, engaging patients in all levels of policy decisions. Her advocacy for people who need medical help to have a family has been recognised both in Australia and internationally. She has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for community service in the area of infertility and surrogacy.
Can you tell me about AccessAustralia and your role within the organisation?
ACCESS is a consumer-controlled, not-for-profit charity providing education, advocacy and information to support those suffering from infertility. ACCESS is an effective, national voice with policy makers, health professionals, researchers and the media, to implement its vision of ensuring equity of access to high quality treatment for those who need medical help to have a family. My role is CEO and Managing Director.
Why was AccessAustralia formed?
ACCESS strives to raise community awareness about infertility by being an effective national voice to highlight the social, psychological and financial needs of people.
To implement its vision, AccessA builds active partnerships with like-minded medical and health professionals, policy makers, academics, researchers and industry representatives. In addition AccessA provides:
- Support – through telephone counselling, website forums, infertility counsellors, personal stories
- Information and Education – fact sheets on emotional and medical aspects of infertility, website, eNews
- Advocacy – alerting federal and state governments to consumer needs; representing consumers on scientific and accreditation committees; conducting community awareness initiatives and bringing consumer perspectives to national and international scientific meetings
There has been an increased awareness about infertility statistics in Australia in recent years. What impact has this had?
The information and education commitment has included providing information to equip people to make informed choices about their fertility and to take care of their reproductive health. ACCESS fact sheets: Human Reproduction, Trying to get pregnant and A rationale definition of infertility are freely available on the ACCESS website.
What are some of the common myths still surrounding infertility in Australia?
The most common myths surrounding infertility.“Just relax” or “take a holiday”. These do not cure infertility. For 80% of couples there is a proven medical cause. “Unexplained” infertility is just that – it means that we’re not yet able to find the cause. There is no evidence to suggest that stress causes infertility. There is plenty of evidence, however, that infertility causes stress.
The fertility industry has been under scrutiny these past few months due to their perceived lack of transparency about their success rates. What are your thoughts on this?
Success, like happiness, can be different things to different people.
ACCESS cautions consumers to beware of clinics that claim their success rates are better than all others.
Advertising on a clinic’s website or in electronic media which claims to have significantly better success rates compared to the average of all other clinics can be misleading. Unequivocal claims can create unrealistic expectations of taking home a baby.
Choosing a clinic based solely on their reported success rates can create unrealistic expectations about the possibility of having a baby at a particular clinic.
Responsible clinics highlight some of the anomalies that can impact on IVF success and offer a more balanced claim that their clinic is “among the best”. This allows consumers to make a fully informed decision when considering treatment.
To help, AccessAustralia has produced a fact sheet titled How to choose an IVF clinic and understand access rates: questions to ask wen closing an IVF clinic. It details the multiple factors that should be taken into account before making a financial commitment to a particular clinic. In addition, it includes a list of questions consumers can ask their doctors about the treatment they are considering.
You are planning to discuss commercial surrogacy at the upcoming Assisted Reproductive Technology Summit. Why do you believe this is such a contentious issue.
Successful Surrogacy is dependent on many factors. A woman willing to help someone fulfill a deep desire to have a child, with the help of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) describes how it is done. What happens next is more complex. Questions include whether the surrogate, or gestational mother, should be forced to relinquish a baby she has carried and given birth to and whether she should be paid.
Where medical technology is involved, governments must decide the extent to which the law should determine who should become a parent. Public policy is influenced by public opinion.
Strongly held views about how a family should be created and who should be permitted to have a child, often reflect a personal moral perspective, rather than objective, reasoned analysis.
Are there any presentations at the Assisted Reproductive Technology Summit that you are looking forward to seeing and why?
I am interested to see how presentations reflect a patient centred approach to policy decisions and are informed by evidence. The topic: Futile and ineffective IVF treatment raises the question of how that may be determined and for what purpose. I look forward to the discussion that many other topics will raise.
Sandra Dill AM will be speaking on the case for commercial surrogacy in greater detail at the Assisted Reproductive Technology Summit. For more information, including our current agenda, please head to our website.