Does Quebec need an In Vitro program?

How the program came to be is highly questionable

photo: La Presse

Quebec radio host Joël Legendre announced this week that he and his husband will be having twins, with the help of a surrogate and the government of Quebec's subsidized in vitro fertilization program. 

The question of whether or not a couple formed of two gay men should have access to the program should not be up for debate. A government cannot, of course, refuse services to citizens based on their sexual orientation. Legendre is unquestionably entitled to this entitlement for as long as it's available, and I wish he and his husband the best of luck.

It does, however, highlight the controversial program once again. How it came to be is highly questionable. 

in 2008, TV producer and host Julie Snyder, wife of Quebecor Media baron and new PQ MNA Pierre Karl Péladeau, took it upon herself to be a champion for couples with fertility problems. She saw her baby lobby as a win-win: "More little Quebecers, more little taxpayers," she told a National Assembly committee. She noted that her family could, obviously, afford the costly treatments, but most Quebecers could not. At $15,000 per cycle, Snyder indeed pointed to an unfortunate inequality.

Though she was well-intentioned, it was a mistake for the Liberal government of the time to cave in, spending over $30-million on the program because a celebrity said it was the right thing to do (naturally, it ended up costing closer to $70-million annually because Quebec). The perception is that the program was implemented to placate an influential Quebec couple.

Today, couples with fertility issues can get In vitro treatment at no cost, thanks in part to Snyder's campaign; also, naturally, covered by Medicare is the cost of treating premature infants, which is estimated at roughly $5,000 per day (complications and multiple births are more common with parents who conceive In vitro). It's a financially and emotionally draining process with no guarantee of success; these couples have my utmost sympathy.

Quebec should continue to offer parents struggling with fertility issues appropriate treatment for the root causes where possible and social services for support. However, the government subsidization of In vitro fertilization is expensive, eerily intrusive and suggests there is an urgent need to grow the tax base; a flashback to the creepy introduction of "baby bonuses."

Though Canada is blessed with the second-largest landmass of any nation on earth, the rest of the world is severely overpopulated. About 18,000 children die every day because of this, and the poverty and sickness that results. The humans who aren't poor and starving are consuming the planet's resources at an unsustainable rate; it is irresponsible for any government to act with such fervor and desperation in an apparent attempt to boost its population, as Snyder had suggested.

If Quebec is so desperate for new future taxpayers (it should be more concerned with saving money by re-engineering the Quebec model), I would suggest an international adoption initiative could be a much less costly alternative - not to mention less risky for the eager parents-to-be and a relief, however marginal, for underdeveloped nations struggling with overpopulation. 

A Montreal couple I know recently had twins after receiving In vitro treatments. Both were born prematurely with complications, and one died after nine agonizing days of life. It's heartbreaking. But parents need to be aware of the risks when they undergo a procedure where the desired outcome is not obtained two-thirds of the time. And when a pregnancy results, there is still an increased risk of complications when compared to natural births. 

The risk may be worth the reward for some would-be parents and that is their prerogative, but as a matter of policy, Quebec's In vitro program is simply not worth the investment or the anguish.

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