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Are You Too Fat For Fertility Treatments?

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If you’re obese and trying to have a baby using fertility treatments like IVF, you may be out of luck. At least in Canada, anyway, where doctors are considering a policy that would deny fertility treatments to women with a Body Mass Index of more than 35 (for the record, a BMI of 30 meets the clinical definition of obese).

A recent article in The Globe and Mail delves into the issue of reproductive rights based on a woman’s weight. It explains how obese women face higher risks of medical complications while trying to become pregnant through IVF, which is why some doctors flat out refuse to treat them. At the same time, being overweight can often be the cause of infertility in the first place, which means it’s obese women who tend to need these treatments the most.

It’s a heated debate that raises a slew of ethical issues. For example, the article quotes Arthur Leader, co-founder of the Ottawa Fertility Clinic, who admits, “We’ve had many angry patients say to us, ‘This is discriminatory’ and I say, ‘Yes, it is’ but I still won’t do it… A patient doesn’t have the right to make a choice that’s going to be harmful to them.” (The clinic where he works won’t treat women with a BMI of more than 35.)

But out west at British Columbia’s Grace Fertility Centre, Anthony Cheung sees it differently. As he tells the Globe, “You’d be denying half the reproductive population from gaining access to fertility treatment. These people already know they have a problem – are you going to make it worse, add to feelings of social injustice, low self-worth, depression?”

Cheung points that most clinics still treat smokers, for example, who are also high risk for things like pre-eclapsia. He doesn’t believe that BMI alone is a good measure for risk factors, and he says that age is the strongest indicator of potential dangers – more so than a woman’s weight.

Still, Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society president Carl Laskin says fertility doctors need to stand strong. “If you don’t think a woman should become pregnant for medical reasons, you have no business helping her to become pregnant. … But it’s a tough, tough message to deliver … there’s usually lots of tears,” he tellsthe Globe. (Laskin does ask patients to return every three months so that he can evaluate their weight loss.)

What do you think? Is this a discriminatory policy or smart thinking?

(Photo: Luis Louro/Shutterstock)