'A huge demand': B.C. doctor calls for more support for fertility treatments

This is part two of CTV News Vancouver Island's three-part series Shifting Focus: Families, Fertility and the Future.

A new fertility treatment clinic has opened its doors on Vancouver Island in response to surging demand – and there’s criticism that our healthcare system isn’t doing enough to support people struggling with infertility.

"Most patients can’t afford the treatment of IVF or egg freezing," said reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist, Dr. Ginevra Mills. "Cost is definitely a barrier for almost every patient I see."

Former patient Natalie Grunberg-Ferreira is grateful she received some family support to start her fertility treatment – and sold her condo to afford it.

"My first child cost $40,000 to give you a sense of the cost and the burden."

The 45-year-old had two children in her 40s with the help of fertility treatment.

"Without Olive Fertility, without IVF, without egg retrieval, I absolutely would not have these two children and it’s a chilling thought," she said.

Grunberg-Ferreira had been preparing to become a single mother, at 37, when she still hadn’t met a life partner. She started with freezing her eggs and then went forward with in vitro fertilization (IVF) – which is a medical procedure that fertilizes an egg outside the body and transfers it into a woman’s uterus.

"There’s been a huge demand for fertility services on Vancouver Island," said Mills.

'NOT JUST US OLD LADIES'

Mills and Grunberg-Ferreira think the government should be doing more to financially support people struggling with infertility.

"If it’s a priority for us to provide universal healthcare to patients in this country or in this province we need to be putting the proper label on infertility, which is that it’s a medical condition," said Mills.

Provinces like Ontario and Quebec offer funding for a round of IVF – which ranges in price from $8,000 to $20,000 per cycle.

B.C.'s health minister was unavailable to comment, according to the health ministry.

The ministry provided a statement, in part saying, "While MSP doesn’t cover IVF, this is not a comment on the value of the treatment, but rather a reflection of the availability of public funding for health care."

MSP does cover costs related to infertility assessments, investigations and artificial insemination.

Olive Fertility Centre says most of its patients are over the age of 35, when reproductive aging lowers a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. Mills says societal pressures that put an emphasis on careers are partly to blame.

"We have those societal expectations but then we put women in a position where it’s harder to get pregnant and then we don’t do anything to help them get pregnant," she said.

Age is certainly not the only contributing factor to infertility though. The centre says it’s the most common cause, followed by ovulatory disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome.

"It’s not just us old ladies," said Grunberg-Ferreira. "It’s not just us career ladies too. It’s all kinds of families that need the help of fertility clinics."

Grunberg-Ferreira met her future husband in the process of planning for her first child – and she thinks all women should get the chance of having the family they dream of.

"It’s preserving women’s abilities to make choices," she said.