Politicians need to recognise that the provision of fertility treatment is a thriving business, which needs proper checks and balances in order to operate correctly, according to a leading US economist. Professor Debora Spar, of Harvard Business School, presented the findings of her recently completed study, 'The Baby Business: How money, science and politics drive the commerce of conception', to delegates attending the annual research conference of the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). She warned that without adequate regulation to ensure equal access to treatment, procedures such as IVF will become a luxury that only the rich can afford.
Professor Spar also called for UK clinics to provide more information for couples on the costs, success rates and risk of treatments. She claimed that without national or international rules, and better information, 'rich infertile people will be able to reproduce at will and poor people will be left with far fewer options'. She also says that countries need to address issues such as whether infertility is a medical condition, who should be given treatment and how it should be provided. 'These are tough political decisions and that is why I think countries have been reluctant to grapple with them. But we have to', she said told reporters at a media briefing.
The fertility treatment industry is estimated to be worth around $3 billion a year in the US, and about £300-500 million annually in the UK. The average cost of one cycle of IVF treatment in the US is $12,400, while the average amount paid by a couple to conceive a baby through assisted reproduction is $58,000. Spar argues that lower prices would widen access to treatment, while maintaining profit margins for the doctors providing it.
In the UK, more than 70 per cent of IVF procedures are currently carried out by private clinics, at an average cost of £2,500-£4,000 per cycle. Despite the money involved, Spar says that couples undergoing treatment don't behave like consumers. 'The patients see themselves as creating a child, not purchasing one', she said, adding 'we need to get rid of sentimentality and acknowledge the commercial nature of the transaction, to protect patients and also the children that might emerge as a result'. Spar said that the HFEA's powers should be extended, to allow it to regulate the financial aspects of fertility treatment.