Suzi Leather: Familiarity helps breed IVF consent

From a speech by the chair of the Human Fertilisation Authority to the British Fertility Society

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Given the capacity of issues around assisted conception to grab column inches and media headlines, I am struck by how little work has actually been carried out on public attitudes to assisted conception. Few large-scale opinion surveys have been carried out in our field. But those which have are not very encouraging.

Given the capacity of issues around assisted conception to grab column inches and media headlines, I am struck by how little work has actually been carried out on public attitudes to assisted conception. Few large-scale opinion surveys have been carried out in our field. But those which have are not very encouraging.

Starting with the Oregon Study in the early 1990s, we see that it is often rated on a par with cosmetic and sex change surgery. A Mori survey of UK adults' attitudes to scientific developments showed only 11 per cent think test tube babies/ in vitro fertilisation has been beneficial for society, while 9 per cent think it has been positively not beneficial.

We can speculate over the reasons for this. It might be a lack of awareness of infertility rates and ignorance of the personal anguish of infertility. In the absence of opinion surveys or focus group evidence, we are reliant on media reports and on consultation like those the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has carried out to gauge attitudes.

These show that treatment considered revolutionary and a cause for concern 20 years ago is now broadly accepted. The early "test tube babies" evoked amazement, some fear and some ethical revulsion. To a large extent public misgiving towards what I might call straightforward assisted conception have been overcome. We could have predicted this simply because we know people become accustomed to new ideas. Familiarity may sometimes breed consent!

But is it just that we've all got used to it? I believe confidence in the regulatory procedures surrounding assisted reproductive technologies and their rigorous enforcement also helps to explain the growing acceptance of assisted conception.

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