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IVF offer same as any other loan, apart from the triplets

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ASB has been accused of exploiting the infertile to make money but the bank says it's not responsible for a couple's decision to undergo IVF. Photo / Getty Images
ASB has been accused of exploiting the infertile to make money but the bank says it's not responsible for a couple's decision to undergo IVF. Photo / Getty Images

If you were struggling to conceive a desperately wanted child and needed money to finance another cycle of in vitro fertilisation (IVF), to whom would you turn? ASB Bank would like to be the chosen one.

Its "Creating Futures" marketing campaign includes advertisements for IVF loans. Although it is presented with the typical marketing warm fuzzies, the ad has come under criticism as socially inappropriate and exploitative.

The television ad, "Chance", features an attractively gloomy couple who are struggling to get pregnant.

They sell their much-loved classic car to finance one unsuccessful round of IVF. Unable to scrape together any more money, they turn to ASB for a loan.

Once approved they undergo another round of IVF, and this time are successful: she's pregnant, and with triplets. The ad ends with the couple and their bank manager all cuddling a healthy baby in the local ASB branch.

The Advertising Standards Authority received 39 complaints alleging that the ad exploited a vulnerable group for the purpose of making money, is socially irresponsible and oversimplifies the IVF process.

It was also accused of creating unrealistic expectations of successful outcomes, including multiple birth (which is considered bad clinical practice) and promoting the accumulation of debt for irresponsible purposes.

Some objections can be easily dismissed. The ad showed IVF is not always successful (as in the couple's first round), and it clearly portrayed the emotional distress infertility and the process of IVF generally cause.

Of course the couple ultimately had a successful IVF outcome - it is an advertisement, after all. It is exactly this fact that excuses ASB from many of the accusations - it's an ad, not a documentary. We don't expect ads for home appliances to show them breaking down.

Some complainants suggested ASB shouldn't be offering loans for IVF at all. If potential parents can't afford IVF, how are they going to afford a child? But few couples hoping to conceive could easily produce $10,000 to $12,000 (the cost of a round of IVF) on demand.

Are complainants seriously suggesting that couples without this kind of financial liquidity ought not to have children?

But is this an irresponsible accumulation of debt? As with any loan, ASB would consider the probability of the couple being able to meet repayments.

Providing couples can meet these, what makes IVF any less prudent than any other reason for a loan? It may be that a loan for IVF allows only another chance at pregnancy - it doesn't guarantee you a baby.

However, IVF loans aren't unique in this. You might get the loan for a holiday, and not have the good time you hoped it would be - you become ill or it rains all holiday.

The loan finances a holiday, not a good time, and similarly an IVF loan finances a round of IVF, not a child. The person seeking the loan believes the chance is worth the expense. This may especially be so when trying to conceive a child.

Perhaps this is the problem. Since the desire for a child is often so strong, the target market is vulnerable to persuasion by ads such as these.

But this persuasion is only a problem if it is followed blindly. After experiencing IVF, a couple will have a realistic and in-depth knowledge of what they are engaging in and it is demeaning to claim that they would blindly follow the suggestions of this ad.

The decision whether or not to undergo another cycle of IVF is made between a couple and their fertility specialist, and the Code of Health and Disability Consumers' Rights requires that consent to this be well thought through.

ASB has been accused of exploiting the infertile to make money. To exploit something is to use it for one's own benefit, and we do this every day to the people and institutions around us. Most of this exploitation is consensual and beneficial.

The ASB loans may be exploitative, but only in this harmless sense - the bank uses my need for money to provide a loan, benefiting from the interest I pay.

But similarly I use its need for customers to provide me with the money I need at a competitive rate.

For a loan to be exploitative in a harmful sense, it must be unfair. Are the ASB loans unfair to people who need IVF? Perhaps they would be if they were charging unreasonably higher interest rates for IVF loans than for other personal loans, but the interest rate is lower than normal (13.95 per cent rather than the usual rate of 17.95 per cent) .

An IVF loan could be unfair if a couple doesn't have the capacity to make an informed decision, but this is not the case here.

ASB is not responsible for a couple's decision to undergo IVF, and it is not trying to convince anyone they should. It is simply providing a financial service that enables some couples who have decided they wish to undergo IVF to do so.

The bank says it is part of wider marketing to promote its image as supportive.

The one objection levelled at "Chance" that to some degree withstands scrutiny is that the couple end up with triplets. New Zealand fertility clinics use single-embryo transfers in IVF, the gold standard for fertility practice nowadays. Multiple births are riskier, the babies are more likely to be premature and with worse health outcomes.

The creators of the ad should have eschewed advertising hyperbole so at odds with clinical practice.

Maja Whitaker, Dr Mike King and Professor Gareth Jones are from the Bioethics Centre, University of Otago.

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