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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Babies born as a result of IVF fertility treatment are cost effective and can actually result in a net economic gain as long as society only pays for the treatment up to the age of 44, Dutch scientists have found.
In a study presented at an international conference on fertility in Munich, Johannes Evers calculated the contribution each person born as a result of in vitro fertilization (IVF) would make to society against the amount the state spends on that same person during their lifetime.
He found that IVF treatment -- which involves fertilizing an egg with sperm in a lab before implanting the embryo into a woman's womb, and can cost many thousands of euros per patient -- is cost-effective for the state until a woman is 44 years old, but beyond that it begins to cost society.
"Every time a politician has to give an example of an expensive medical treatment, IVF comes up," Evers said in report of his findings released on Tuesday. "One of the means to reduce the cost of IVF has been to call for an age limit for fertility treatment in general, and IVF in particular."
Policies on state or health insurance funding of IVF treatment vary widely from country to country, with some health authorities limiting the number of attempts a woman can have paid for, or the age at which she can receive funded treatment.
A woman's fertility drops sharply after the age of 35.
Evers, a fertility expert from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, based his calculations on figures for Dutch patients, but said similar calculations could also be applied to other developed countries.
Based on an average Gross National Product of 24,320 euros ($31,120) per person per year and an average life expectancy of 76 years, Evers found that lifetime contribution of every person to the Dutch GNP is around 1.848 millions euros ($2.36 million).
He then took away the average costs to society of that person, including childcare and education (640,000 euros), social welfare and healthcare (550,000 euros), and retirement benefits (420,000 euros) and found that the average net contribution of each person to GNP was 238,000 euros ($304,500).
Set against IVF costs in the Netherlands -- which are around 28,000 euros at the age of 35 and 49,000 euros at the age of 40, but rise dramatically to almost 600,000 euros at the age of 45 -- Evers found the treatment paid for itself up to age 44.
"This work shows that society actually receives substantial benefits from each baby produced via IVF, and simply looking at the costs of IVF without looking at the benefits is a false economy," Evers said.
"In addition, we have the joy of the couple in having a child and the benefits of a human life, which you can't simply deal with through this type of calculation."
Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Paul Casciato