UK to allow lesbian couples equal access to IVF

Michael Cook
May 2012
Reproduced with Permission

Same-sex couples will have the same access to IVF treatment as heterosexual couples under guidelines issued by the UK's health advisory service, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. The upper age limit for government-funded IVF will rise by three years to 42.

Government health authorities in England and Wales are to fund intra-uterine insemination (IUI), using donor sperm, for lesbians. If they fail to conceive after six cycles of IUI, they will considered for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), which is much more costly and involved.

The health system in the UK normally pays for up to three cycles of IVF for couples who have been trying to get pregnant for at least three years. Previously, women had to be under age 40 to qualify. Many government-funded clinics already treat gay and lesbian couples, but the guidelines now make that explicit, though they are not binding.

The London Telegraph points out that the change follows a relaxation in the law, made under Labour in 2008, to put same-sex parenting on an equal legal footing. Under the the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, IVF clinics no longer had to take into account a child's need for a father or a male role model before agreeing to treatment. Same-sex couples or single women now need only show they can provide "supportive parenting".

In the wake of this, there was boom in lesbian couples undergoing IVF. The figure rose from 178 in 2007 to 417 in 2010.

Josephine Quintavalle, founder of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, described the same-sex move as "absurd".

"We are not prepared to accept what constitutes fertility from a biological perspective. Fertility treatment is very important but in this case what we are trying to do is rewrite biology."

- London Telegraph, May 22; USA Today, May 23