A new report from a panel appointed by the McGuinty government is calling on the province to approve Ontario Health Insurance Plan coverage of pricey fertility treatments for those struggling to have a baby.
The report, to be released today, recommends the province finance up to three cycles of in-vitro fertilization for Ontarians.
It also recommends creating a new centralized agency to streamline public adoptions.
If implemented, the IVF changes would be a coup for would-be parents who have lobbied the province to pay for treatments, which can cost as much as $10,000 per cycle. Ana Ilha and husband, Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa professor, filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario last week arguing that OHIP's policy is discriminatory because it covers IVF in only limited circumstances.
Mr. Attaran said he hopes the province will take the panel's report to heart.
"If these recommendations are followed, it would be a step in the right direction," Mr. Attaran said.
Minister of Youth and Children's Services Deb Matthews told The Globe and Mail last night that the province is reviewing the report, but no timeline has been set for deciding which proposals to put into action.
"The province appointed this panel a year and a half ago because there are things that we think we can and should do better," Ms. Matthews said.
"We're going to take the time to very carefully consider all of their recommendations."
Panel chairman David Johnston, president of the University of Waterloo, said the province can't afford not to finance IVF. Many couples who have to pay for IVF have more than one embryo implanted to increase their chances of a live birth.
The rate of multiple births from assisted reproduction in Ontario was nearly 30 per cent in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available. In jurisdictions that control the number of embryos that can be implanted, the rate is about 10 per cent.
The panel wants the province to enact controls to bring the multiple rate down over the next decade and bring IVF clinics and fertility centres into the public-health system.The number of private IVF clinics proliferated in Ontario after the province withdrew most of its public funding for IVF in 1994 over questions about how effective the procedures actually were. Only women with blocked fallopian tubes were still eligible, less than a quarter of all IVF cases.
Matt Gysler, medical director of the Isis Fertility Centre and chief of staff at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, said he would welcome funding - and stricter rules for clinics.
"Right now, there's really no quality control," he said. "Patients are relying on the physician's level of training."
Quebec unveiled a program to pay for IVF treatment in April. Several other countries, including Belgium and Australia, also cover fertility treatments.
Ken and Denise Salsman of Toronto said they considered using IVF to overcome their fertility issues when they began trying to start a family three years ago. But they were deterred by the high cost and heard from friends that domestic adoptions could take up to 10 years.
They decided it was better to spend their savings on an international adoption. But they were among the more than 400 families who were left in limbo after their agency, Imagine Adoption, went bankrupt last month. The Salsmans hope to complete their adoption with another agency. Mr. Salsman said their experience has underscored the need for better oversight of adoption agencies as well as IVF clinics.
"There is a certain amount of 'buyer beware' there," he said. "But it's the fact that there are children involved that there needs to be an extra step of monitoring."
Ms. Matthews said the province is continuing to look at ways to strengthen the international adoption system and to encourage more domestic adoptions.
"We have close to 10,000 crown wards in the province and only about 800 of them get adopted each year," she said. "We can do better."
Currently, a "patchwork" of 53 Children's Aid Societies arrange adoptions in their areas.