ART is for everyone

New data from the UK’s Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) allows some insight into growing trends for assisted reproduction technology (ART) and how it will be utilised as we go forward into this still new century.

Key figures revealed by the report show:

– 35.5: The average age of IVF patients in the UK has increased by three years from 33.5 in 1991 to 35.5 in 2017

– 91%: Patients seeking fertility treatment are typically people in heterosexual partnerships, and this group represents almost 91% of people seeking fertility treatment in the UK

– 12%: Treatment cycles for patients in same-sex partnerships have increased by 12% from 2016 to 2017

– 4%: This is the increase seen in the UK in the number of treatment cycles for patients who register as having no partner

– 20%: This is the percentage increase in treatment cycles involving surrogacy

The last three data points are interesting because the average annual increase in demand for ART in the UK for heterosexual couples (the largest group, comprising 91% of patients) is 2%. So we can see that the rate for same-sex partnerships is increasing 6 times faster than this, whereas women without partners is increasing at twice the rate for hetero-couples, and surrogates are increasing at a whopping 10 times the rate for hetero-couples.

For these 9% of ART patients, infertility is not necessarily the reason for seeking treatment but it is social contexts that don’t allow for natural conception.

Sally Cheshire, HFEA chairwoman, commenting on the report said, “We are seeing a gradual change in the reasons why people use fertility treatments, which were originally developed to help heterosexual couples with infertility problems. While the increases in same-sex couples, single women and surrogates having fertility treatment are small, this reflects society’s changing attitudes towards family creation, lifestyles and relationships and highlights the need for the sector to continue to evolve and adapt.”

Her comments reflect the fact that, increased parentage rights for same sex couples have in many countries accompanied the push for greater marriage rights. For instance, in 2009 the UK changed the laws on rights for same sex female couples allowing for the non-birthing mother to be the second legal parent of the child conceived via ART. This was welcomed by the LGBTQ community as a means of normalising the idea of LGBTQ family building in the UK in the new century.

Happily, many ART/IVF clinics across the world, well in advance of this trend identified in the HFEA’s report are proactive in offering this fast growing patient group services. They offer specific treatment paths for gay men, lesbian women, single women and transgender people. For instance, typical outlines of treatment paths might include:

• Gay male couples: help on egg or embryo-donation with a gestational surrogate, and advice on specific options for gay couples such as split insemination, where half of the donor eggs are fertilized with sperm from one male partner, and the other half of the donor eggs with the sperm from the other male partner

• Lesbian couples: advice with options for intrauterine insemination (IUI) with an anonymous or known sperm donor. And for women who have problems conceiving through insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF) services are offered

• Single women: advice on services and options that are of particular interest of this group such as egg freezing, as well as the usual ART services

• Transgender individuals and couples: regardless of transition status, the many clinics can help transgender people with family building goals. For instance, trans individuals who haven’t started transitioning can preserve their future fertility by freezing eggs, sperm, or embryos before starting hormone therapy, protecting their ability to have their own biological children in the future.

The growing trend identified by the HFEA report, and the proactive response of many clinics worldwide to the changing picture of family building in the 21st Century, is welcome because everyone should be free to experience the joys of parenthood, and fertility care should be about the needs of all potential parents.

Please click here for further information on the statistics quoted in this article.