Fertility Treatment for Single Women and Lesbian Couples

Fertility Treatment for Single Women and Lesbian Couples

Dr Gareth Weston
Fertility Specialist
View Dr Weston’s biography here

Monash IVF has a proud history of supporting the fertility aspirations of single women and lesbian couples. Since the change in Victorian legislation allowing access to donor sperm treatments for these groups was enacted in January 2010, we have seen a doubling of treatment cycles for single women, and a tripling of treatment cycles for lesbian couples. These two groups now comprise 6% of all the IVF cycles at Monash IVF, and more than half of the cycles of artificial insemination at Monash IVF based on 2012 statistics.

There has been a dedicated effort to welcome single and lesbian patients, with removal of gender-specific titles on paperwork, modification of mandatory counselling sessions to reflect their different concerns and needs, and the introduction of a waiver to enable women to access known sperm donors after a shortened three months rather than the standard six months to enable them to access their donor sperm faster, especially during older ages, when prompt treatment is very important. Monash IVF has engaged with local organisations, such as Joy FM, and both same-sex and single parenting groups. We also have a deliberate policy of trying to reserve the same anonymous sperm donor for both members of a lesbian couple, where both intend to have a genetic child, and where this is desired by the couple.

There are two main issues in accessing treatment for both single women and lesbian couples. The first is the access to Medicare rebates for treatments, which is only permitted if the woman to be treated has a medical cause of infertility. This can only be determined by a fertility specialist, after a detailed assessment, including a careful history, blood tests, ultrasound, and sometimes a laparoscopy. Without Medicare funding, IVF is extremely expensive, in which case artificial insemination with donor sperm is the preferred treatment. After three cycles of artificial insemination, if no pregnancy has occurred, there is sufficient evidence of infertility for Medicare funding to be accessed. The second major issue is the availability of donor sperm. Monash IVF has one of the most extensive anonymous donor sperm banks in the country, but we have seen an unprecedented demand on donor sperm, at the same time as the number of men willing to donate anonymously has declined.

Currently, 95% of our single women, and 80% of our lesbian couples wish to use anonymous donor sperm rather than a known sperm donor, placing a great strain on our anonymous donor sperm bank. There is enormous effort expended in recruiting new donors, including advertisements in print and radio campaigns. There are many more donors suitable for IVF only than are suitable for artificial insemination (which requires sperm of better quality). Nonetheless, we are able to satisfy the vast majority of our patients with the anonymous donor bank at present.

An emerging treatment type at Monash IVF for lesbian coulpes is intra-couple egg swapping, where the eggs from one partner are used to make embryos for transfer to another partner. We have been performing this technique for the last four years, and it increases the fertility options available for our lesbian couples.

If you are considering starting treatment, the first step is to be referred by your GP to one of our Fertility Specialists. Our specialists feel passionately about your right to be a parent. After a consultation, we can discuss your aspirations, the economic and medical issues with treatment, to create an individualised treatment program.



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