Jokes about a COVID-19 "baby boom" as more couples spend time together in self-isolation are painful for the thousands of couples whose infertility treatments have been postponed or put on hold during the crisis.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) issued a strong warning March 17 to clinicians against starting any new cycles of assisted ovulation, intrauterine inseminations (IUIs), in vitro fertilization (IVF), or "non-urgent egg freezing." This puts a kibosh on couples who have been patiently waiting to start a family through fertility treatments.
The decision to post these guidelines was partially to divert healthcare workers to more urgent arenas and also to respect social distancing rules governing non-urgent medical visits, according to Vox.
Eric Widra, chief medical officer at Shady Grove Fertility, which has offices in seven states and performs thousands of procedures each year, tells Vox that providing fertility treatments in centers located in hospitals or medical centers would "divert personnel and resources away from acutely ill people." Widra said free-standing clinics would continue to offer treatment if they can do so "in a fashion that limits the risk of spreading the disease and does not tax the healthcare system."
There is another reason why the ASRM might be concerned about continuing to recommend fertility treatments. Not much is known about the affect of the virus on pregnant women and their fetuses, says Vox. And then there is the problem of monitoring the pregnancy itself when routine visits to an obstetrician might be curtailed.
"We are working on a case-by-case basis," says John Zhang, medical director and founder of New Hope Fertility in New York City. "Some patients have spent six months to have one opportunity to find one egg.
"It's based on the patient," he tells Vox. "If they haven't started and are 35 years or younger, then we will delay. But for a patient who is 39 years or older who has been on treatment for six to nine months, we will continue for now."
Some fertility experts are fighting back, according to NPR. Dr. Beverly Reed, a fertility specialist in Texas, says the guidelines issued by the ASRM unfairly discriminate against fertility patients, especially same-sex couples and single people, who have fewer options to get pregnant on their own. Although the risks of COVID-19 are still being studied, she feels patients should be able to decide for themselves if they want to continue treatments.
But Dr. David Adamson, a former president of the ASRM, tells NPR, so little is known about the new coronavirus and how it affects unborn babies that patients cannot make an educated decision about continuing treatments.
"My assessment personally is that they've made the right decision," he said, referring to the recommendations. "But make no mistake: There are definitely women and men being harmed by not being able to do IVF. But we have to look at the greater good of society and there are still too many unanswered questions to say it's OK to go ahead right now."
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