IVF and Adoption: Not Two Sides of the Same Coin

Sarah Chapple suggests that Ontario’s proposed financial support for IVF but not adoption is one more example of financial discrimination toward adoptive families.


Last week was Canadian Fertility Awareness Week. For many, this was an opportunity to shine the light on the April 10 announcement by Ontario’s Liberal government that it would provide new funding for one IVF cycle to people who cannot conceive. Since then, Ontario is in the midst of an election, the outcome of which could have serious implications for the implementation of this proposed funding scheme.

The government’s intention to fund IVF treatment has met with both support and criticism.

The original press release claims the government is responding to diverse needs through improved access to both IVF and adoption. In addition to funding for IVF, there will be financial initiatives for foster care adoption and better access to information about adoption.

BabyMoneyThe government statements imply that IVF and adoption will be equally supported, but this is not the case. IVF and adoption are quite different paths to parenthood and cannot be treated the same. The needs and concerns of adoptive families are very different from the needs and concerns of persons seeking IVF treatment.

Promoting adoption as a way to build families should be a governmental priority.

In 2012, the Government of Ontario announced a subsidy program for adoptive families created through the foster care system. This is a wonderful program. However, it does not address the myriad financial and societal barriers faced by parents who adopt younger children through the foster care system, or parents who adopt through local private adoption or international adoption. The subsidy program also excludes families who finalized foster care adoptions prior to the start of the program.

Adoptive parents in Ontario also experience financial discrimination in employment insurance (EI) legislation. In Ontario, adoptive parents are granted only 37 weeks of parental leave, whereas biological parents are granted 52 weeks. The implementation of equalized EI parental leave for adoptive families would allow an equal amount of time for parents to adjust to parenting their new children, and would allow both parents and adopted children more time to bond and form attachments.

The Adoption Council of Canada estimates the cost of equalized EI benefits would be approximately $23.6 million for all of Canada, meaning approximately $8.3 million for the 1600 families adopting every year in Ontario. This is significantly less than the estimated cost of $50 million per year to fund one IVF cycle for eligible persons in Ontario, and could result in more families being able to adopt waiting children.

Additionally, many adoptive families in Ontario do not have equal access to supplemental employer benefits. For example, some employers offer a maternity leave top-up to 85% or more of one’s wage to supplement EI benefits, but exclude adoptive parents (and, indeed, any parent other than the biological mother) from these benefits.  Other employers provide a top-up for adoptive parents, but it is less than the amount offered to biological parents. Even though this discrimination has been challenged through provincial human rights tribunals and in court, many employers continue to discriminate against adoptive parents.

There is no ethically sound rationale to provide biological parents with higher financial benefits than adoptive parents. The complex application process, long wait times, significant financial costs of adoption, and resources needed to support children who have been adopted into their permanent family, mean that adoptive families require as much (if not more) support than is currently offered to biological parents.

Presenting fertility treatment and adoption as an either/or situation is unfair and damaging to adoptive families and those who experience fertility issues. “Why don’t you just adopt?” is a question heard by many people who struggle to have biological children. It reeks of insensitivity and misunderstanding of the complexities of the adoption process. Furthermore, many families choose to adopt for reasons other than fertility issues. They deserve equal financial support and societal recognition of their families.

Ontario’s human rights code lists family status as a protected ground and yet, adoptive families still face significant financial discrimination through the EI system and unequal subsidy benefits, both of which provide more financial support for parents of biological children. Canadian law does not recognize any distinction between an adopted child and a biological child. Employment insurance legislation and supplemental employer benefits should not discriminate based on family status.

All children deserve the same good start with their families and current policies clearly place a lower value on families formed by adoption. This is a human rights issue. It is time to end this discriminatory practice.


Sarah Chapple is a Critical Care Social Worker in Vancouver and an Instructor at the University of Victoria in the Faculty of Human and Social Development @sarah_chapple 


  1. Sarah Chapple · · Reply

    Thanks for your comment. My intent was not to position IVF and adoption against each other, in fact, the article states the opposite. I found the original press release (linked in the article) troubling because it implies that the Ontario government is providing equal financial support for both IVF and adoption. My intent was only to shed light on the fact that adoptive families face a great deal of financial discrimination and this appears to be yet one more example. The motivations for pursuing IVF and adoption are quite different and it does not serve anyone to compare the two as though they are the same. Adoptive families deserve more support than is currently being offered and this should be a governmental priority, as all families should be treated equally under Canadian law.

  2. Sharon Romeo · · Reply

    “Sarah Chapple suggests that Ontario’s proposed financial support for IVF but not adoption is one more example of financial discrimination toward adoptive families.”

    I strongly agree that adoption, particularly the adoption of older children, should be fully subsidized, supported, and encouraged by nation-states. Families that adopt foster children should be provided with generous support systems specific to the special emotional and education needs of the children.

    But I do not understand the comparison of adopting a child to infertility treatments. Infertility treatments are medical services for adults with specific conditions. If one does not think the nation-state or the province should fund IVF, why doesn’t one simply argue that position?

    First, I do not understand the assumption that IVF will result in a genetic child. Donor or “adopted” embryos are not genetically related to legal parents. These embryos implant as a result of fertility treatments. Do not assume the goal of fertility treatment is a genetic child.

    Many IVF and IUI treatments result in pre-embryos which are not genetically related to one or both parents. American sperm is imported and used routinely in Canadian IUI and IVF treatments. These donor treatments are common, weekly events at the multiple fertility clinics throughout Canada.

    Further, I’m befuddled by the comparisons of pre-embryos and gametes to infants or children. I do not understand why we would presume to compare a child to a gamete or a pre-embryo. Rhetorically, I don’t find this comparison to be apt or helpful.

    Gametes and pre-embryos may, eventually, grow into children, but miscarriages are fairly common in the first trimester. Gestation and labor must occur before there is an infant. Further medical care, such as pre-natal care, will likely follow before an infant is born.

    In any case, most provinces in Canada do not fund any aspect of IUIs or IVF. If Canada or her provinces do not wish to fund infertility as a medical condition, that is the rightful prerogative of the provinces and the nation-state.

    But the implicit assumption of this article suggests the state would pull limited funding from an special joint “IVF-adoption fund.” This rhetoric suggests the funding of IVF would disadvantage relinquished Canadian children. Apparently the concern is that prospective adoptive parents would be distracted with fully-funded endometrial biopsies, hysteroscopies, and the surgical removal of uterine fibroids?

    Adoption costs should, of course, be fully funded. I do not understand why adoption costs are rhetorically positioned against medical treatments for infertility. (This is the second such post on this blog which has done so.) I would gently suggest that a false conflict is not illuminating, and it distracts from an evaluation of the costs and benefits of covering infertility as a medical treatment.

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