Major survey of attitudes to Assisted Human Reproduction (Tom O’Gorman)

A clear majority of public opinion in the West favours the use of assisted human reproduction (AHR) in certain circumstances, according to a major survey carried out last year. The study asked 1,500 adults in 15 countries, including Ireland, about their views on IVF and other AHR techniques. It found that most people favoured its use in general but were opposed to specific uses, for example to facilitate same-sex couples who wish to have children.

Participants were asked to rank their acceptance on a scale from one to 10, with 10 signifying maximum acceptance. Countries average levels of acceptance were then graded on this scale.

In Ireland, the average level of acceptance for IVF for infertile couples was 7.5. The lowest level of acceptance was in Austria, where the average level was six. (The other countries surveyed were; the Czech Republic, Sweden, France, Denmark, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland, Italy, Germany, Israel, United States and Japan.)

However, there was a wide variation in attitudes towards the uses of AHR in other situations. For example, in the Netherlands, there was an average level of acceptance of 5.4 for the use of sperm donor banks to enable same-sex couples to conceive. In Ireland, the level of support was a much lower 3.6, while in Poland it was 1.1.

There was lower support generally for AHR as a method of helping women aged over 45 to conceive. While in the Czech Republic, the level of support was 4.8, and in Spain 5.4, in Ireland it was only 3.7, and in Denmark it was 2.2.

There was also broad support preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) which allows parents to order to destroy ‘imperfect’ embryos before implantation and select a healthy embryo instead.

But this did not translate into support for use of PGD to to choose a baby’s sex. In no country did this achieve more than a 4.0 level of support. In Ireland, the level of acceptance was only 2.6.

And while there was a reasonably high level of support for the use of sperm donors to enable single women to conceive, (4.6 in Ireland), there was a very low level of support for the idea of using sperm donors as a means of choosing a father who is ‘particularly intelligent’.

In Ireland, the level of support is only 1.9, while in no country was the level of support greater than 3.2.

Interviewees were also asked what they thought would be the best option for a couple unable to have children due to problems of fertility: 1) use assisted reproduction or in vitro fertilization techniques, 2) adopt a child, or 3) accept the situation and stay childless.

A majority in all countries chose either adoption or the use of assisted reproduction techniques, with only a small percentage most in favor of them accepting the situation.

However, there were significant differences between the countries surveyed as regards the first two options.

In some countries, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Denmark, Israel, and the Czech Republic the majority would opt for assisted reproduction in a case of infertility. In Spain too, this option was supported by a relative majority.

In other countries, Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland, and the United States, however, a relative majority prefer the adoption route. However, in Ireland and the UK, opinions are more evenly divided between the two alternatives. Thirty six per cent of Irish people believe infertile couples should opt for adoption, as against just over 40 per cent who believe IVF is a better option.

In the UK, 41.7 per cent believe IVF ought to be the preferred route, while 39.7 per cent believe adoption is superior.

In sum, while there is widespread popular approval of AHR techniques to help infertile couples conceive a child, there is no such consensus about the use of certain techniques in specific circumstances. In particular, there seems to be unease when it comes to using sperm donors to enable same-sex couples to conceive, and to enable couple to select for sex or intelligence.

When it comes to AHR, the devil, it seems, is in the details.