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Fertility patients from N.S., P.E.I. beg for answers after Moncton clinic refuses service

Nova Scotia

Several families in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia say they've offered to get numerous COVID-19 tests or isolate for two weeks to access services at a Moncton, N.B., fertility clinic, but the clinic won't say when they'll be allowed back.

Amelia Edwards and Lyle MacDougall have desperately been trying to access the sperm sample they have saved at Conceptia Fertility Clinic in Moncton, N.B. It's their only chance to conceive because of MacDougall's fight with testicular cancer. (Submitted by Amelia Edwards)

Lyle MacDougall and Amelia Edwards were just friends when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer four years ago.

At the time, Edwards says, they didn't realize the significance of the advice provided by MacDougall's mother — that he should go to Conceptia Fertility Clinic in Moncton, N.B.

"His mother had the great foresight to insist that he preserve some sperm in the event the worst-case scenario happened," Edwards says.

As MacDougall faced chemo and two stem-cell transplants, the two fell in love and now live in Dartmouth, N.S. In late 2019, they decided to go to Conceptia to use that sperm sample — their only chance to conceive a child.

"We have a finite amount of chances using that one single preservation to get pregnant," Edwards says.

Pandemic put IVF on pause

The couple was just getting ready to start the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process when the pandemic hit, and fertility services were stopped. But when things started to reopen, Edwards says the clinic wouldn't tell her when she could go back.

"It felt like a lot of smoke and mirrors to be honest. I haven't felt as though I've been given a straight answer," she said.

Edwards, 35, says fertility struggles are hard enough on their own. She says the lack of communication from Conceptia has been devastating.

"I understand that there is a pandemic and people need to take precautions, however, conceiving is, in my opinion, it's a human right," she said. "I would like to know when they are going to think it's OK for us to get pregnant? When is it going to be our turn?"

Edwards is one of four families CBC has spoken with who are being denied service at the Conceptia Fertility Clinic because they live in Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island. They say there are many more who won't come forward because of the private nature of fertility.

While New Brunswick has various restrictions in place around travel to the province, it allows patients from the other Maritime provinces to enter so long as they have a note from their medical practitioner confirming the medical appointment.

There are just two clinics in the Atlantic region that provide IVF services: Atlantic Assisted Reproductive Therapies in Halifax and Conceptia. Both have lengthy wait-lists that were amplified by shutdowns during the beginning of the pandemic.

In the fall, those who would travel to Moncton from out of province say they were told by Conceptia they wouldn't be accepted for the foreseeable future. Conceptia would not do an interview with CBC News explaining why.

The director, Craig Ferguson, said in an email he would not make any public statements, and added that the clinic is in continuous communication directly with clients and provincial health authorities.

In an interview with CBC in January, he said the clinic was only treating a quarter of the patients it typically would because of COVID-19 restrictions. And the clinic's location in the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre was complicating matters.

Jordan and Jenna Rankin have spent four years travelling to the Conceptia Fertility Clinic to try to get pregnant. With no fertility services on P.E.I., they're asking the provincial government to help them get back to the Moncton clinic. (Submitted by Jenna Rankin)

For Jenna Rankin and her husband, Jordan, the out-of-province rule was crushing news.

The couple in Summerside, P.E.I., have been using Conceptia's services for four years. They've had two embryo transfers from IVF cycles that resulted in miscarriages.

They had just finished a new round of testing in November when the Atlantic bubble burst and they were told they couldn't come back.

"We've been calling every month," said Rankin. "The communication, we feel like it's been very poor, it's really hard to get a sympathetic ear. Every time you call we've been provided different answers every month."

Rankin can't just switch to the Halifax clinic. Not only would she have to deal with the wait-list, but three of her embryos are frozen in Moncton.

'It has taken a toll'

Rankin needs to visit Conceptia three times to have her next embryo transferred, which she says can be done by day trips. She thought it would be fine because there is a medical exemption for people needing to cross the border.

She says she offered to get tested for COVID-19 as many times as needed in advance, but Conceptia told her no.

"We've begged. We'll do anything," said Rankin. "It's hard to process mentally, physically. It has taken a toll."

Another patient from P.E.I. told CBC she offered to isolate in Moncton for two weeks and stay there for the entirety of her treatment, but was also told she could not go to the clinic.

Rankin has written to her MLA, the P.E.I. health minister and the premier, asking them to intervene.

Possibility of testing

In a statement, P.E.I.'s Department of Health and Wellness says it is aware of the issue. It says it's working with its New Brunswick counterparts to see if patients could receive additional testing before leaving the Island.

Nova Scotia's Department of Health said the pandemic has created unique challenges, but it can't speak for the policies of private business.

Rankin and Edwards don't understand why, at this stage in the pandemic, Conceptia won't tell them the conditions that will need to exist for out-of-province patients to return. Both say they respect the need for safety.

Rankin points out she's paying fees to have her embryos stored at the clinic. She's already spent $30,000 on services.

"It's the time and thousands of dollars that we've put into this. To only be refused services at this time, I feel it's an essential service," she said. "I know I'm speaking on behalf of myself, but there's so many Islander patients who are in waiting."

Edwards, meanwhile, says she's had enough. With no guidance from Conceptia, she managed to get an appointment at the Halifax clinic.

She's decided to have their sperm sample transferred to the city. She says it's a scary prospect, and is worried something could happen such as an accident or a technical failure, but she says she feels she has no choice.

"Those are all worst-case scenarios but when you are faced with one chance, the worst-case scenarios are very very real to you, and they are to us," she said.



Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca


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