Couple deserve chance to start a family after cancer hell

Try to imagine the shock and despair a woman feels at being told she has cervical cancer.

Think of the fear and the worry. Consider the physical toll and emotional strain on the patient, her partner and their loved ones.

Then factor in, as a result of treatment, the loss of that woman’s ability to have a baby.

It is a scenario awful enough to make you hug your own children that bit tighter as you tuck them in at night and thank your lucky stars that you are in the fortunate majority.

Sadly, this situation is all too real for Rebecca Brown and her husband Elliot, of Meir.

Faced with the heartbreaking prospect of never having a family of their own, the Browns turned to a close friend.

She is a woman who already has children and is prepared to be a surrogate mother to end Rebecca and Elliot’s nightmare.

However, the surrogacy, involving a form of IVF, comes at a price and it’s one that the National Health Service in Stoke-on-Trent is not prepared to pay.

Rebecca and Elliot’s case is ‘not exceptional’, say the powers-that-be.

Given the circumstances, I’m struggling to think what would qualify as ‘exceptional’.

At this point I should say that I have a huge amount of sympathy and respect for the people who sit on NHS panels deciding which drugs and forms of treatment should be made available to the public.

It is not a job I would like. They walk a tightrope that straddles the ethical, medical and financial.

It seems to me to be a thankless task – and, to mix my clichés, a case of having to compare apples and pears and robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The bottom line here is, of course, that there is a bottom line. The NHS budget is not a bottomless pit and the taxpayer simply cannot afford to fund every drug and type of treatment available.

But I can’t help but think that Rebecca and Elliot deserve a chance.

There will be those who say that the NHS saved Rebecca’s life and that she should be grateful for that.

Others will argue that, dreadful as it is, not being able to have children is not a life or death issue and the £5,000 of public money for an IVF treatment cycle would be better spent on other things.

However, for me, this is a quality of life issue.

It is about the Browns, having come through hell and considered all the options, deciding to try for a baby that will be biologically theirs – as close to a normal, natural pregnancy as they will ever come.

A midwife speaking at a ‘parent-craft’ class once told me that being able to carry a child and give birth is the single most natural thing a woman can do. She described it as a ‘keenly-felt need’.

Now just think of all those women who fall pregnant by accident or who churn out baby after baby without a care in the world and turn out to be utterly hopeless mothers – without a stable family background or income to support their offspring.

Think of the money the State throws at them in terms of support, help and benefits.

Yet here we have a solid, married, working couple (because this affects Elliot too) who have been through the mill in recent years only to be told that the NHS can’t help them achieve what so many people take for granted.

The Browns have sought to ensure the surrogacy is conducted properly and are dealing with someone they trust implicitly, but still find themselves stymied by bureaucracy and financial constraints.

Irrespective of their financial situation, I don’t believe Rebecca and Elliot should have to pay for a treatment which others receive a free cycle of and which has been available on the NHS in the Potteries since October 1988.

Some may feel that such a decision would set a dangerous precedent – opening the floodgates to all sorts of claims for fertility treatment.

This is why the prioritisation of funding is key to the ethos of the NHS and why I welcome the new Government’s plan to shift the responsibility for decision-making away from the bean-counters and back to the medical fraternity.

For me this case is simple: It is about the wish, or perhaps need, of a loving couple, a man and a woman, to do that most natural of things – start a family.

How then could anyone, in all good conscience, deny them such a fundamental right?

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