Tuesday, August 19, 2008

National Day Rally Speech: Baby Benefits

The government will be doling out even more generous benefits to couples to encourage them to have more kids.

Although I'm single and will not benefit from these policies, I can see why it would be good for the country to have more kids, so in principle, I support these increased benefits even should they result in (slightly) higher taxes.

I am, however, opposed to financial aid for in vitro fertilization.

In vitro fertilization is expensive, and success rates are not high. Even the successful cases frequently require multiple cycles, with the cost mounting with each additional cycle. From a cost-benefit point of view, it seems difficult to justify funding couples for such a procedure.

More problematically, having kids is a joy, but it's not an entitlement. In vitro fertilization is an elective procedure, and in an era of high inflation and escalating health care costs, I find it unseemly that tax dollars will fund such a procedure while costs for medical care continue to ratchet upwards. There are lots of Singaporeans concerned about rising medical costs; why spend tax dollars on an expensive elective procedure (that has a low to middling rate of success) that will benefit only a handful of people?

Thirdly, fertility is ineluctably tied to age. A woman's fertility starts to decline post-30ish. A substantial proportion of women who opt for in vitro fertilization do so because they are older and as a result less fertile or infertile. Now, people postpone having kids for a variety of reasons. Career is a common one, and I have absolutely no objections towards women prioritizing that choice over having kids. Neither would I say that such women "deserve" to be infertile because they have decided to postpone having kids.

What I will say is that subsidising in vitro fertilization lowers the opportunity cost associated with prioritizing career over kids and hence postponing having kids. It is inconsistent and counterproductive for the government to encourage its citizens to "settle down" and start a family while simultaneously  introducing policy that reduces the opportunity cost of starting a family early.

Of course, I am aware that the decision to undertake in vitro fertilization hardly boils down to dollars and cents. It is a painful (literally), inconvenient, expensive and emotionally fraught (due to disappointments over cycle failures) procedure not lightly undertaken by any couple (including gay couples in more progressive countries).

My point is that we should not be using tax dollars to fund policies that are inconsistent or counterproductive to each other. Add in the part about cost-benefit analysis and elective procedures and this makes me feel very strongly that we should not be subsidising in vitro procedures.

[As an aside, in light of these generous benefits, I wonder what the reaction of singles, stay-at-home mothers, and single mothers will be. I am watching the special interests of Singaporeans closely.]

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