An Associated Press (AP)/Washington Times report has revealed that the market for fertility treatment tourism is booming as a solution to egg donor shortages, high private clinic costs and restrictive donor anonymity laws. More permissive nations are taking a cottage industry approach to promote fertility services that are attracting a growing international clientele.
US women travel abroad for cheaper treatment, while women in other nations with stricter donor laws seek access to the US or nations where market-priced competitive donor recruitment is more easily available and donor selection is possible. In the US, where advertisements offer an average of $80,000 for Harvard graduates eggs, donor information is unrestricted and, for the right price, donors can be screened to match particular criteria.
An AP/Times survey of about 20 clinics in Spain and Greece revealed that 2,000 women travelled there in 2005, paying between $3,300 and $8,000 for donated eggs. Even including hotel and travel fees, American women can receive treatment in these countries for as little as 10 per cent of US costs. France provides treatment for free but, like many co-signatories of an international cooperative effort to prevent the sale of body parts, it bans payment for egg donation as unethical.
The effect of this policy, AP/Times reports, is a 'severe shortage' of donor eggs. In 2004, only 144 women donated eggs in France, according to the regulatory Biomedicine Academy. Patients face five-year waiting lists. Associations now profit from helping these women liaise with foreign fertility clinics that better serve their needs, sometimes offering discounts at particular clinics.
US residents are now turning to these French associations to help link them with more inexpensive foreign clinics, notably in Spain and Greece. Also, couples in search of eggs from black donors, a generally expensive scarcity, are travelling to clinics in Cameroon and Burkina Faso.
Experts warn that without regulatory standards, two-fold deceptions are risked by donor and agency misrepresentations. Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at University of Pennsylvania, recommends thorough background checks and cautions, 'We see a wide variability in success rates, which aren't always explained to customers'.