This coming July, Louise Brown will celebrate her 46th birthday. Brown was the first person to be born as a result of in-vitro fertilization. Decades of advancements in medical science have perfected this process and close to 7,000 babies are born in Canada each year through in-vitro fertilization.
When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians this month about four different processes that can be relied upon to deal with infertility, opinions are overwhelmingly positive. More than seven in 10 adults in the country approve of surrogacy (74 per cent), sperm donation (76 per cent) egg donation (also 76 per cent) and in vitro fertilization (78 per cent).
Surrogacy – a process in which a woman carries and delivers a child for a couple or individual – is seen positively by 78 per cent of women and 75 per cent of Canadians aged 35 to 54. There are some political differences, but they are not extreme. Majorities of Canadians who voted for the Liberal Party (80 per cent), the New Democratic Party (NDP) (77 per cent) and the Conservative Party (68 per cent) in the 2021 federal election approve of surrogacy.
A recent statement from Pope Francis called for a ban on the “despicable” practice of surrogacy. More than half of Canadians (57 per cent) disagree, and in no gender, age or regional group do we see more than a third of Canadians in agreement with the current wishes of the head of the Catholic Church.
One thing that has changed since the birth of Brown is our ability to discuss fertility setbacks openly and honestly. In our survey, 41 per cent of Canadians say themselves or someone they know has been affected by infertility. This includes 47 per cent of women, 47 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 34 and 57 per cent of respondents of South Asian descent.
The Canadians who have been exposed to infertility, either personally or through family members, friends or colleagues, understand the complexities of the problem. Almost seven in 10 (69 per cent) say that cost was a barrier to proceeding with treatment – a proportion that rises to 74 per cent among women and 78 per cent among those aged 35 to 54.
Canada does not have an all-encompassing policy to address infertility. Different provinces – with the glaring exceptions of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan – have established their own guidelines to publicly fund in-vitro fertilization.
In Ontario and Quebec, the health-care system covers one round of in-vitro fertilization treatment — which usually costs between $10,000 and $20,000. This course of action is supported by 29 per cent of Canadians.
Fewer Canadians endorse three other options: A tax credit of up to 40 per cent of in-vitro fertilization treatment costs, which is currently in place in Manitoba and Nova Scotia (21 per cent); New Brunswick’s policy of a one-time grant of $5,000 to be used for in-vitro fertilization treatment (14 per cent); or Newfoundland and Labrador’s system, which offers a grant of $5,000 to be used for in-vitro fertilization treatment for a maximum of three cycles (11 per cent).
Put differently, three in four Canadians think any of these four policies is acceptable.
Only one in four (25 per cent) believe in-vitro fertilization should not be funded by the health-care system.
In May 2022, the BC Liberals — now BC United — argued for the implementation of a policy akin to the one currently in place in Ontario and Quebec, effectively funding one round of in-vitro fertilization treatment for individuals and families in B.C. with an annual income of no more than $150,000.
In our survey, British Columbians are more likely to prefer the Manitoba and Nova Scotia model of tax credits (29 per cent) than the full one round coverage (23 per cent). In any case, only 23 per cent of the province’s residents say they believe in-vitro fertilization should not be provided by the health-care system.
More than a third of British Columbians (37 per cent) have experienced infertility personally or have been in contact with someone who has had difficulties conceiving. A policy to ensure that individuals who wish to become parents can have a better opportunity to do so could be important in an election year. It remains to be seen if other parties will ultimately react to what BC United originally proposed.•
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online survey conducted from Jan. 12-14, 2024, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.