Magazine article Science News

OTA Finds Infertility a $1 Bilion Problem

Magazine article Science News

OTA Finds Infertility a $1 Bilion Problem

Article excerpt

OTA Finds infertility a $1 billion problem

Ten years after the birth of the world's first "test tube baby," helping infertile couples make babies has become big business, says an Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) report released this week. In the United States, infertile couples spent about $1 billion last year on medical treatments aimed at conception. But half may remain childless, says the report, which calls for greater emphasis on prevention of infertility and better evaluation of the latest reproduction technologies. The report also criticizes the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for what OTA calls a failure to address some of the more emotional issues involved, including funding for research on fertilization in the laboratory.

An estimated 2.4 million U.S. couples suffer from infertility -- the inability to conceive after one year of intercourse without contraception. Not all seek treatment, and more than half already have at least one biological child. But fertility problems will place an increasingly heavy burden on U.S. health care, according to the new report. Between 1965 and 1982, the number of infertility-related visits to a physician rose from 600,000 each year to 1.6 million, although the overall number of infertile couples remained about the same. As a result of these visits, as many as 200,000 babies -- or 5 percent of the total -- are born each year. Most of these "assisted reproductions" result from now-standard procedures, such as surgery to open blocked tubes and artificial insemination.

At technology's leading edge, however, are such emotion-laden issues as surrogate motherhood and in vitro fertilization (IVF). In the future, predicts the OTA report, roughly 100 "surrogate mother arrangements" will be made each year, despite present confusion over these contracts' legality. Although half of the 169 IVF programs in the United States have poor records and only 1 in 10 IVF patients becomes pregnant during treatment, the report predicts improving success rates. …

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