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Opening of the World Fertility Congress: address.

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25 NOVEMBER 2001

It is a pleasure for Ann and me to take part in the opening ceremony of this World Congress on Fertility and Sterility, being held here in Australia for the first time.

It is well recognised that Australia, specifically Melbourne, has been a centre of excellence in reproductive medicine, including infertility, family planning and menopausal medicine.

Australia is recognised, in particular, for a number of world firsts in in-vitro fertilisation, achieved by men whose names sit at the very top of the hierarchy of honour in this field.

Two of them have been identified as Patrons of this auspicious gathering - Professor Carl Wood and the late Ian Johnston.

Ian was a personal friend and, for my wife Ann, who practiced here in Melbourne as an obstetric physiotherapist, he was also for many years a respected colleague.

We both miss him keenly, a sentiment shared by many delegates to this Congress, which would not be taking place if it were not for the energy and commitment of Ian Johnston and Gab Kovacs who conceived of the idea a decade ago.

It is remarkable to consider the number of breakthroughs in research and treatment options that have been made, even in those ten years, let alone over the thirty-four years since Professor John Leeton, Janet Paterson and I were involved in opening Victoria’s first family planning clinic at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Fitzroy for low income families.

Progress has been so rapid that, at times, it has been difficult for ethical guidelines, the law and community understanding to keep pace with change.

Carl Wood once explained to me that the duty of the scientist as researcher is to break new ground wherever new ground is there to be broken. It is not the scientists’ primary job, he told me, to resolve issues of ethics.

I believe that Australian researchers have proceeded with a good deal of care, in close consultation with ethical committees. They have operated, as they must, within the laws determined by our Parliaments.

This ongoing, inter-disciplinary communication and consultation is essential if the wider community is to continue to accept and feel comfortable with further future research developments in this field.

Looking back to the birth of Australia’s first so-called “test tube” babies in the early 1980s, people were uneasy, even fearful of the new technology. Fifty thousand IVF babies later, the majority of people approve of its use by infertile couples wishing to have children.

Over the twenty years, Monash Medical School has continued to gauge community attitudes towards the technology. With more than one in ten babies in Australia now conceived through IVF, the results of the school’s most recent survey include the highest ever approval rating for the technology.

These days, we all know someone who has been involved in or been conceived through the IVF programs.

But it is important that we continue as a society to monitor the reactions of ordinary people to all of the great and curious possibilities that could or should be pursued by extraordinary people. People like you, whose talent and skill puts them in a remarkable and powerful position to affect human life and human well-being.

I wish you well now as you embark on five days of deliberations around this broad and complex field.

My congratulations go to Gab Kovacs and all of the organisers from the International Federation of Fertility Societies.

And finally from Ann and me, a personal, heartfelt tribute to patron Carl Wood and to Ian Johnson who is here, I am sure, in spirit.

He was always larger than life.