Women undergoing fertility treatment in Japan have been forced to make difficult decisions after a medical oversight body called for a postponement of procedures while the coronavirus pandemic rages, intensifying their race against time to become pregnant.
The Japan Society for Reproductive Medicine released a statement in April, urging member doctors to ask patients to consider postponing treatments citing difficulties in treating pregnant women if they become infected with the virus and a lack of understanding about possible mother-to-child transmission.
"I was about to progress to the next step, but it was suddenly halted," said a 33-year-old woman in Tokyo who started receiving treatment three years ago.
The woman was undergoing in vitro fertilization and was about to have fertilized eggs transplanted into her uterus when the directive was released. On that basis, she decided to postpone her treatment but says it is frustrating as she had been waiting for a long time to take the step.
A 30-year-old woman in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, also stopped visiting the fertility clinic at which she had been receiving treatment.
"It is painful to have to give up on my limited chances," she said, adding she would have been haunted by concern about becoming infected with the virus if she became pregnant.
But a JSRM official stressed the point that "the statement was not intended to make people refrain from getting pregnant."
"We want people to receive proper treatment in accordance with their respective circumstances," the official said.
Akiko Matsumoto, who heads a nonprofit organization that supports people experiencing fertility struggles, said the statement has prompted many to stop their treatment programs, but others have said they cannot postpone it due to their age.
"Fertility treatment is a battle against time in some respects," said Matsumoto. "There are many medical institutions that have already taken measures against infections, and we want them to continue providing treatments to offer support to people who are feeling worried and anxious."
In the wake of the organization's statement, the health ministry decided to relax the age limit for couples receiving state subsidies for infertility treatment for this fiscal year, allowing women under 44 years old to receive financial aid instead of those under 43 years old.
Japan has been subsidizing in vitro fertilization and micro insemination for couples who earn less than 7.3 million yen ($68,000) combined annually.