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Singles In Ivf Exodus
The Sun Herald
Sunday March 27, 1994
HUNDREDS of Victorians are crossing the NSW border to access artificial insemination programs which are outlawed to unmarried couples in their own State.
The Albury Reproductive Medicine Unit has offered in-vitro fertilisation(IVF) and donor insemination programs to about 50 Victorian couples over each of the past five years.
Victorian legislation prevents unmarried couples from joining such programs.
Linda Brown, 37, of the Melbourne suburb of Epping, has been in a de facto relationship for almost five years. She was shocked when stopped from joining an IVF program in Melbourne late last year.
"I was angry, very angry," she said. "I don't see why de facto couples should be discriminated against.
"If I was to break up with my de facto I could take half of everything and yet we aren't allowed to have a baby. It's a double standard."
Ms Brown said the seven-hour return trip to Albury had interrupted her work and had proved expensive.
"There are accommodation costs for the overnight stays, petrol costs, time off work.
"If you have it done in Melbourne you don't have to have time off work."
Obstetrician gynaecologist Dr Scott Giltrap, one of the Albury unit directors, said many people travelled to the clinic from Melbourne because they did not wish to get married.
"Some of them have been living together for 10 years," he said.
"I guess there are a lot of people in Victoria who just go to the registry office (to access IVF programs). It's quite ridiculous legislation."
Dr Giltrap and Dr John McBain established the Albury unit in late 1988.
Dr McBain, who was involved with Australia's first IVF pregnancy, is based in Melbourne and is also a director at the Royal Women's Hospital and the Freemasons Hospital in Melbourne.
Dr Giltrap, who lives in Albury, said the clinic was originally set up for people living in country NSW who had to travel long distances for IVF programs in the city.
"We didn't set it up to avoid the Victorian legislation," he said.
IVF program co-ordinator Ruth Keat said: "Anything that would prevent people from having to cross the border to access this sort of treatment could only be an advantage because they are faced with the same set of circumstances that Albury people were faced with before we were established. That is they have to travel long distances at expense to themselves."
Amendments to Victoria's Infertility (Medical Practices) Act 1984 are due to go before Parliament this session.
A spokesman for Victorian Health Minister Marie Tehen said the Government was considering extending IVF programs to long-term de facto couples.
Mrs Tehan has been reported as saying she had not been persuaded the program should be expanded to include de facto couples.
Extending the programs to gay couples had been "categorically ruled out."
NSW IVF clinics generally treat heterosexual couples in long-term de facto relationships.
Professor Douglas Saunders, who heads the IVF program based at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital, said access by unmarried couples to assisted reproduction technology in NSW was at the discretion of ethics committees attached to individual IVF programs.
Although the committees were known to reflect varying opinions, Prof Saunders said he was not aware of any people in stable de facto relationships who were denied access to the programs.
He said there would be thousands of IVF babies in NSW.
Dr Stephen Steigrad, director of Department of Fertility at Royal Women's Hospital in Paddington, described the Victorian legislation as "bizarre".
The director of the private clinic, Sydney IVF Pty Ltd, Dr Robert Jenson, said he recently treated an unmarried Victorian lawyer at the clinic.
"She couldn't be treated in Victoria so she came up to Sydney IVF and became pregnant after 15 years of infertility.
"It's curious that the law doesn't recognise de facto marriages in that context when it does in everything else.
"At Sydney IVF we only treat couples with heterosexual infertility. But if they are couples and they are infertile then they don't have to have a marriage certificate."