The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has urged couples seeking fertility treatments to 'think twice' about travelling to other countries for an 'IVF holiday'.
The HFEA, which was set up in 1991 to regulate, license and monitor the provision of fertility treatment in the UK, said that couples should make sure that they are aware of the 'risks and implications' of going abroad for treatment before they book. Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA, said that the authority is aware that 'a relatively small number of people choose to travel abroad to undergo fertility treatment and that sometimes the treatment is packaged as a 'holiday' where the patient can convalesce in the sun'. However, she went on to say that some foreign clinics may offer treatments that could be dangerous to patients, such as implanting multiple embryos during IVF to increase the chance of a pregnancy. In the UK, current guidance, found in the HFEA Code of Practice, stipulates that clinics should transfer no more than two eggs or IVF embryos at a time to women under 40 years old and no more than three eggs or embryos to women older than 40.
'We are concerned that people who choose to have their treatment abroad should know about the potential risks', said Ms Leather, in a press statement released by the HFEA last week. She warned patients to consider what would happen if something went wrong, and also other things, such as whether their information would be kept confidential and whether gamete donors are screened, as well as how they are recruited, whether they are paid to donate their gametes, and whether they would be identifiable.
Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, a patient support organisation, said that although the HFEA's warning may be sensible, as the standard of care in other countries may not be as good as it is in the UK, some patients will still choose to ignore it because they are 'forced' to travel abroad because they cannot access the treatment they need at home. 'The shortage of egg and sperm donors has led to unacceptably long waiting lists in some areas and we know of clinics where the waiting lists have been closed and couples are no longer being accepted for treatment due to the lack of donors', she said. In addition, some patients will choose to travel to another country in order to circumvent restrictions placed on treatments in the UK. According to the BBC, European fertility clinics have seen a boom in UK customers since the right to anonymity was removed for UK gamete donors last year.