Bill Speech: Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Bill 2020

Ms SPENCE (Yuroke) (16:58): I am very pleased to rise in support of the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Bill 2020. I was feeling a lot braver about speaking on this bill until I listened to the contributions of the member for Footscray, the Minister for Women, the member for Tarneit and other contributions. But anyway, here goes. I have spoken in this place before about my experience with assisted reproductive treatment, or ART, with IVF treatment. Whilst I have no regrets about going through that treatment, for me and Kosmos it was not a pleasant experience and it was not a successful venture.

It is worth mentioning that if you have not undergone that treatment or known someone who has undergone that treatment, you may not be too familiar with what is involved. ART can range from pretty unpleasant right through to downright gruelling. It involves a variety of drugs in a variety of forms from nasal sprays to tablets, to injectables, much probing, scanning, surgical egg retrievals, embryo transfers, failures, repeat cycles et cetera. For those that are undergoing ART, of which IVF is only one form, this is a terrible journey. It can be a very long and terrible journey. For those who have success, it is a terrible journey with a wonderful outcome, but for those who do not have success, like us, it is just a terrible journey.

As I have previously mentioned in this place, I do not remember how many IVF cycles we went through, but I do remember the last one because it ended in a later miscarriage than the other failures, after which we were both physically and emotionally beaten. I know that you are not supposed to refer to them as failures. I also know that you are not supposed to buy pregnancy tests and use them every day, but anyone who has been an IVF patient knows that you buy them by the dozen and you use them as often as you are told not to. You check those lines and you check how dark the lines are, and then you deny that you have done it and then you confide in someone that you have. That is just one of the little secrets that you have as an IVF patient. Anyhow, after going through that, at the very least we knew that we had to take a significant break, and that was even if we continued on at all with that treatment. That was in mid-2008.

But something happened later that year that really added insult to the injury of what was our terrible journey of ART. We went back to our specialist around six months later to do the check-in and have a discussion about what we wanted to do next. We were still pretty gutted about what had gone on and we were nowhere near ready to move on, still physically and emotionally beaten and still carrying a fair bit of grief, when we were told that the rules were changing. To continue on this journey, a journey that we had already been on for two years at that point, we now needed to go and have police checks to prove that we were fit to be parents. We needed to prove that we did not have histories of sexual or violent offences or having children removed from our custody, which we did not. Essentially we needed to prove that we were fit to be parents. Still feeling physically beaten, emotionally beaten, grieving a loss that you do not think anyone else possibly could understand, it was honestly just like some cruel joke that someone was playing on us.

If people on this terrible journey of ART that are hopeful for parenthood were not going through enough, couples were now required to get a police background check as a precondition of treatment. It may seem like something small—a police check, a small fee, a delay to treatment—but it is actually so much more than that. At a time for us when we were already physically and emotionally beaten this was so insulting. It was insulting, it was discriminatory, it was hurtful. I know that that was not the intention of the legislation but that in effect was what the legislation was doing.

The absolute kicker for us was that we were already parents. We were required to have a police check that we were fit to be parents when we were already parents to Adam, who at that stage was a teenager. We were so committed to having another child that we had survived parenthood through to having one that was a teenager, at which point most people would go, ‘Hey, we’re now counting down the years until we don’t have to do this anymore’. And we were ready to stump up to do it again just to be told, ‘No, no, no, no. You’ve got to go and prove that you’re fit to do this’. I do not know whether it was crazy or brave, but we were prepared to do it just to be told, ‘No, no, you just might not be fit to do that’. Even though there was nothing in our pasts that a police check would have found that would have prevented us from continuing treatment, what if there was? What would that have meant for Adam? And the answer to that is nothing; it would not have meant anything for Adam. But what this requirement really did was it reinforced that there were two classes of parents. The first class of parents were those that were parents as of right, those who could conceive naturally and without question. Another class had to prove themselves suitable, had to prove themselves fit to be parents.

The Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008, in section 14 as it currently stands, creates a presumption against providing treatment to a patient if either applicant returns a police or a child protection order check where there is a history of certain sexual or violent offences or a child has been removed from their custody. If there is an adverse finding, there is that presumption against treatment. But that is not the full story. The presumption is actually created before then. There is an implied presumption for those who seek access to ART that they are not actually fit to be parents unless proven otherwise. They cannot access treatment until they prove they are fit to be parents by not having these offences or child protection issues in their backgrounds.

This second class of parents has a presumption against them from the get-go. There is an implied presumption that they are not fit to be parents, that they need to prove otherwise before treatment can even commence. The presumption can be reinforced by that adverse finding, but its genesis is not in that adverse finding: it is established on day one when you are referred or accepted as an ART patient. I found this outrageous at the time, and I still find it to be outrageous. This is, and it was, insulting. It is discriminatory and it is hurtful. I do not for a minute think that it was the intention of the legislation, but for me that was the effect.

For some people I get that this is not a big deal, and good for them, but for me the timing of the introduction of this requirement was too much because it was just adding insult to the injury of a terrible ART journey. That is my experience; I am sure others have very different ones. Perhaps if it had been part of the process when I was starting from scratch, it may just have been another piece of paperwork, another part of the application process. Listening to the member for Footscray, I do not think so. Also, knowing that this was the one issue that was raised, second to fees, in the Gorton review despite it being excluded from the terms of reference for that review, I do not think so. I think despite what point your treatment started this is a very significant issue to patients who have been seeking ART.

What this bill does is it removes that requirement for women, and their partners if they have them, to have these police and child protection orders, and I am very pleased that it does. I thank the Minister for Health for bringing this bill. I thank the Minister for Equality for his words in regard to the important removal of discrimination that is in the current legislation. To all of those that are currently undertaking ART, I wish you the very best, and my thoughts are with you for a successful outcome. I hope that this hardest of journeys results in the greatest of joys. My thoughts are especially with those who do not get this outcome. It is a grief that very few will understand. For me, I look on the bright side. I hope that Adam and his fiancée one day are prepared to share their toys with some other little people—not right now; they are not prepared to share their toys yet. In the meantime I take delight in the wonderful children of my good friends like the member for Sunbury. I am very glad that the local council issues multiple animal permits much easier than you can get pharmacists to sign police check documents. With those few words, I am extremely pleased, and I commend this bill to the house.