Dr Aitken predicted that unless there was a rethink, Australia was well on the way to replicating the Danish experience where one in 15 children were IVF babies. He said the trend to IVF raised equity issues in how much money society should pay helping couples have children and research was revealing previously unsuspected health risks such as increased cancer rates among boys whose fathers – but not mothers – smoked and used assisted conception techniques.Share
"We should guard against recklessly marching into a future where we use too much assisted conception in order to compensate for our loss of fertility," he said.
"Its an inexorable upward trend. We are taking recourse to IVF in increasing numbers and the thing we have to remember as a society is that the more you use assisted conception in one generation, the more you're going to need it in the next."
Director of the University of Newcastle's large 50-staff Priority Research Centre for Reproductive Science and the 2012 NSW Scientist of the Year, Dr Aitken is world-renown for his work on the largely neglected field of male reproduction.
Delivering a lecture at the BoschInstitute, Human fertility: How Lifestyle, Affluence and the Medical Profession are killing our Species, Professor Aitken criticised the IVF industry for ignoring the fact that failure to conceive stemmed largely from male fertility problems. He said the human male was not a very fertile individual.
"Roughly one in 20 is infertile ... An old lecturer of mine used to say if men were bulls [they would] all be taken out to backyard and shot," Prof Aitken said. Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) – binding a sperm cell to an egg – was an IVF procedure now being used by many couples. But the reproductive biologist said new ICSI research coming out of Belgium showed there may be a price to pay:
"There is a negative pay-off. If you have a son from this process it is possible that he too will have the same pathology that you had."
Dr Aitken said fertility rates tracked affluence down history. (Read more.)