As reported in The Krakow Post (Dec. 8), Health Minister Ewa Kopacz had announced last November that the government would sponsor a plan to finance in vitro fertilization for infertile Polish couples currently unable to pay for the process.
The issue of IVF fertility treatment is hotly debated in Poland. Recently, the highly-influential Polish Church published an open letter in which bishops reiterated the teaching on in vitro fertilization as a sophisticated form of abortion. “Even the strongest desire to have children cannot justify the expense of dozens of other innocent lives,” it argued. With the people, the government and the Church holding sometimes quite differing positions, the government set up a special committee to examine the question in detail.
However, in a move that may upset some younger voters, the government later stated that it would not be able to subsidize the procedure, citing the lack of relevant laws under which to redistribute health funds, as announced by Polish Press Agency (PAP) in January.
Poland, a European Union member and subject to European law, is in fact currently in breach of several EU directives stipulating that member states ensure the careful monitoring and safety of reproductive cells. It is Poland’s failure to ratify such directives that, according to the Minister, currently disallows the allocation of public funds for IVF treatment.
Aware of the financial plight of some of its potential clients, one Polish clinic, InviMedu (in co-operation with Lukas Bank), has begun offering loans to couples, covering 50% of the treatment costs. While the numbers of enquiries for such loans is relatively small at the moment, the introduction of such financial assistance may be crucial for the many Polish couples desperate to have a child through IVF. The government’s citing of the unratified EU directives may be regarded as either coincidence or convenience. What it certainly is not is the end of the debate: Poland’s lack of compliance could eventually lead to it being referred to the European Tribunal of Justice.
In the meantime, the government’s decision has left left-wing politicians free to accuse the government of political alliances with the Church.
When first setting up the government committee, Zbigniew Chlebowski, head of the ruling Civic Platform party parliamentary club, said: “I believe that the joint committee of the government and the Episcopate will talk even about the most difficult issues. I hope it will find solutions to all the doubts that are raised in public.”
Thousands of children are born every year through the help of private IVF clinics. However, each couple must finance the treatment themselves (typically around 20,000 zloty per cycle), either up-front or through private borrowing. Also, due to the still largely taboo subject, the couple must usually operate clandestinely, unable to seek helpful information or moral support from their communities.
IVF is described by the Catholic Church as “vile,” “very harmful to health” and “a form or refined abortion,” its main objection being that the procedure requires the use and destruction of several embryos for every successful pregnancy. In fact, in contrast to other countries, no unused embryo in Poland has ever been destroyed. They are, instead, kept frozen for possible future use.
However, other concerns remain, both for the health of the mother and for the fate of extra embryos, implanted to increase chances of a successful pregnancy. Maria Srodon of Mater Care, an international organization of gynecologists and obstetricians, said: “Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome [which simulates natural pregnancy conditions] ? can be a fatal condition. In addition, the rate of health problems and various congenital abnormalities among children born from IVF procedures is higher and IVF often results in multiple pregnancies. In these cases, parents get together with the doctor to determine which of the babies should be aborted.”
How the government’s refusal to subsidize IVF procedures represents a “solution” for those desperate to have a child remains to be seen. There were some 5,000 IVF procedures performed in Poland last year, 20 percent more than the previous year. And, while it is, technically, a legal procedure, it is, in reality, an unattainable dream for the large number of Poles who are unable to pay, and who will not be helped by the recent government statement.