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Growth of international fertility treatment 'tourism'

5 February 2007
Appeared in BioNews 394

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'.

More U.S., French Couples Travelling Abroad for Cheaper Fertility Treatment
Kaiser Network |  30 January 2007
Trade in human eggs thrives as infertile couples seek donors
International Herald Tribune |  29 January 2007
18 May 2009 - by Professor Eric Blyth 
What we currently know about cross-border reproductive services derives primarily from anecdotal patient accounts shared on the Internet and reports provided by journalists - often working 'undercover' and posing as patients. The nefarious character of some services under investigation, alleging illegal activities (1,2) and exploitation of young women as egg donors...
22 September 2008 - by Sarah Pritchard 
A report has indicated for the first time the cost faced by the UK's National Health Service (NHS) as it copes with multiple births resulting from IVF patients treated abroad. New research undertaken by the Fetal Medicine Unit at University College London Hospital (UCLH) makes a link...
26 August 2008 - by Professor Guido Pennings 
The European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) has been concerned about the development of cross-border infertility treatment for some time. There are three reasons for this: the frequently negative publicity for infertility treatment presented as 'reproductive tourism', the increasing numbers and the risks for patients. ESHRE has taken...
4 July 2007 - by Sandy Starr 
It is essential that fertility regulation be standardised across Europe, according to Professor Paul Devroey of Brussels Free University. Speaking in Lyons, France at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology - of which he is chair - Professor Devroey made a provocative contribution...
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