Did you know that Australia has over 13,000 IVF babies born per year, the UK over 20,000, the West as a whole (Europe+US+offshoots) over 200,000 and the world as a whole 500,000? And did you know that due to the corona panic these services have been halted pretty much everywhere, meaning those children don’t get born and the parents will be childless, which causes tremendous pain and grief?
Here I want to calculate just how many lost babies and childless families are being created by the panic and every subsequent month of lock downs. The bottom line is that in Australia, there is an equivalent loss of life years to about 26,000 corona-related deaths per month due to the halt in IVF services. For every person who has died with corona in Australia so far, more than 2,000 years of life of IVF babies has been sacrificed, and a similar number of years of thwarted parenthood have been inflicted. For the West as a whole, the bottom line is that within 6 months of lock downs, more life will have been prevented and blighted via the halt in IVF services than is likely to have been lost if there would have been no panic and no particular prevention policies at all. These are enormous and unconscionable losses.
To know the total loss of halting IVF treatments we need to get an idea as to how easy it is to “start up again” once the process has been disrupted, and whether it is likely or not that delayed treatment will turn into no babies.
One key thing to know about fertility treatments is that women need over a month preparation before they can have the treatment, quite apart from the consultations and paperwork. They need to be on hormone treatments to get their eggs to ovulate, which can then be harvested, and they need to be on a stable hormone level before any fertilised eggs can be placed back. Disruptions to the process mean one needs to start again.
This means that even a single week of corona virus lock downs means more than one month’s worth of preparation is down the drain as all bets are off with the planned IVF treatments. So the first month of corona related lock downs will roughly cost two months worth of IVF treatments, though after the initial month, one loses only one month of treatment for every subsequent month of lock downs.
Many of the women going through fertility treatments are so close to infertility that postponement will mean they will never get another child. Also, of course, the clinics were rather busy before the lock downs and can only handle so many cases. Given how the hospitals have large gluts of untreated patients they will need to “go through” when the lock downs are lifted, it should thus be doubted that there will be much catch up of any missed fertility treatments. Probably the opposite: IVF treatments wont have priority so further delays are more likely than catch-up. Tellingly, the industry reaction to the lock downs reportedly was that “it hopes most women will be able to resume treatment within a few months“.
So we have to be honest and drily note that the first month of lockdowns meant at least 2,100 IVF babies will not be born in Australia, 3,500 not born in the UK and 35,000 not born in the West as whole. These babies would have expected 80 years of life, meaning that 3 million years of life have been destroyed in the first month of lock downs alone, together with over 2 million years of life of women and men who now wont have another child. That latter number uses the rough rule of thumb that half the IVF babies would have been to a single mother and half to a “regular” couple, and that these patients were about 40 years of age on average. For the West as a whole, each subsequent month means a loss of another 1.3 million years of life due to babies not being born, and 1 million years of unhappier lives of their carers.
How does this compare to the benefits of the lock downs, ie the prevented deaths? In a previous post, I calculated the likely benefit of preventing any corona deaths versus a “do nothing” approach to be 45 million years of life for the world as a whole, which was based on a death rate of 0.2% and the rule of thumb that the average person dying with corona would otherwise have had 3 more high-quality years. If you look at the low numbers of deaths even in places where they do nothing special (like Sweden), those assumptions are now looking very generous towards the potential benefits of lock downs. However, those numbers held for the world as a whole. For the West, which is less than a sixth of the world population, we should hence count about 7 million years of life potentially saved by lock downs.
So within about 5 to 6 months, the potential benefits of the lock downs, if we are being generous to the lock downs, already cause an equivalent loss in terms of IVF babies not being born. That goes on top of all the other losses due to the lock downs, via loneliness, unemployment, disruption of health services, etc.
For Australia, which basically has very few corona deaths, before or after the lock downs, the picture looks far more dramatic still. There have only been 71 recorded deaths with corona so far. Yet, there will be 2,100 babies not born due to the lock downs, meaning that per corona death, 30 babies will not get born. Its a causal and ongoing loss.
Another way to put this is that per month of lock down, Australia is preventing the birth of over 1,000 babies who would have expected 80 years of a happy life. If we cared equally about a year of life saved from corona and a year of life actively prevented by the lock downs, then this means we are looking at the equivalent loss of life of 26,000 corona deaths per month, more if we also count the suffering of their potential mothers and fathers.
We really do have to open our eyes to these enormous losses in life and wellbeing due to the lock downs and the whole panic around them. These are not reasonable tradeoffs to make: there is a strong moral imperative in lifting the lock downs immediately and putting the onus of proof in terms of continued lock downs on those who want to continue inflicting these pains on others. Indeed, every person who agrees with the statement that “the measures taken to date have come at a cost to economic activity and jobs, but believe these are far outweighed by the lives saved and the avoided economic damage” is now personally co-responsible for all the surplus misery caused by extended lock downs.
Please tell me in the comments below of other groups of somewhat unseen victims of the corona panic and the lock downs. With links to evidence please!