Page URL:

Experts attack 'fertility tourism' industry

21 September 2009
Appeared in BioNews 526

British couples travelling abroad to take advantage of commercial surrogacy arrangements are engaging in a form of 'exploitation', Professor Naomi Pfeffer, an expert in the ethics and regulation of controversial developments in medicine, said at a fertility meeting this week.

Speaking at the 'Motherhood in the 21st Century' conference at University College London on Friday, she said: 'The exchange relationship is analogous to that of a client and a prostitute. It's a unique situation because it's the only instance in which a woman exploits another woman's body.'

In the UK women who act as surrogates for infertile couples are allowed to receive up to £10,000 to cover expenses, but any further payment is illegal. This has contributed to an acute shortage of surrogates in the UK, driving many couples to travel abroad where commercially-arranged surrogacy is permitted. In such instances, more vulnerable members of society could feel pressured to offer themselves as surrogates in order to repay debts or put food on the table, Professor Pfeffer warned. She also harboured concerns about the risks surrounding egg retrieval, which involves taking powerful hormones to stimulate egg production in the ovaries and having a needle inserted into the vaginal wall under local anaesthetic.

She said: 'Most of these women are in developing economies where access to healthcare is limited by their ability to pay. They are often vulnerable women and it's a very unequal economic relationship. These women are being encouraged to take real risks with their health through ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval. It commodifies women's bodies and treats their reproductive capacities as a service.'

Also speaking at the event, Lord Robert Winston, Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College, agreed that paying for treatment abroad was 'a form of exploitation,' while Professor Sammy Lee, an IVF expert who teaches medical ethics, embryology and biomedical sciences at University College London, said that the acute shortage of egg and sperm donors in the UK would quickly lead to more couples going abroad.

In July this year Professor Lisa Jardine, Chair of the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), questioned whether reversing the ban on payment for sperm and eggs in the UK would potentially allow a more transparent system of donation to be adopted.

A study, presented at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE)'s annual conference earlier this year, indicated that each year 20,000-25,000 women from Britain are travelling abroad to access treatment which is unavailable to them at home.

Paying poor foreign women for eggs is 'a kind of prostitution' says fertility expert
The Times |  19 September 2009
17 January 2011 - by Walter Merricks 
We regard it as morally wrong to buy or sell babies. We do not allow a trade in human body parts - kidneys, organs or blood. Commercial arrangements to pay fees to surrogate mothers are banned. The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) says there is a 'shortage' of donated gametes and embryos - in the sense that there are fewer gametes and embryos that have been donated than the number of people who would like to receive them. There are also 'shortages' of babies available...
15 March 2010 - by Ailsa Stevens 
A donated human egg will be raffled on Wednesday to mark the launch of a new IVF service which helps UK women to access egg donation services in America. The new service, offered by the Bridge Centre in London, will allow patients to select egg donors on the basis of characteristics such as racial background, health, education and appearance....
17 November 2009 - by Professor Margaret Somerville 
A recent article by journalist, Allison Cross, described how a shortage of Canadian donor sperm could be prompting women and their partners to turn to the Internet to find free donors: 'Many of these people want 'do-it-yourself' donor insemination, without intervention by doctors'...
4 November 2009 - by Ben Jones 
US company 'The World Egg Bank' has signed a deal with IVI fertility clinics in Spain to provide US consumers with 'IVF vacations' to Spain. The company, which provides the world largest online registry of egg donors, specialises in services involving the extraction, storage and sale of cryopreserved eggs. The company touts the tours as costing the same or less than the price of IVF in the US but with the added benefit of a vacation in Alic...
1 September 2009 - by Dr Francoise Shenfield 
As a clinician based in the UK, one cannot fail to be aware that some patients seek fertility treatments abroad. Until now we only had newspaper headlines or anecdotal evidence, but having presented the results of the first European study in Amsterdam at the annual ESHRE conference (1), we may now base our reflections on some facts, even if selected by the voluntary nature of participating colleagues and centres abroad....
27 July 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens 
A public debate is urgently needed to decide whether people should be paid for donating eggs and sperm to infertile couples, according to Lisa Jardine, Chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). In an exclusive interview with the Times, Professor Jardine said that the lack of egg and sperm donors in this country was driving couples abroad for fertility treatment in often unregulated clinics, and that the HFEA could potentially consider a reversal of the ban on paymen...
6 July 2009 - by Sarah Pritchard 
The results of a new study into cross-border fertility treatment in Europe indicate that every year, thousands of women from Britain are travelling abroad to access treatment which is unavailable to them at home....
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...
21 July 2008 - by MacKenna Roberts 
An overwhelming majority of infertility patients in the UK said they would contemplate travelling abroad for fertility treatment, according to the first comprehensive study on the strength and motivations behind the fertility tourism industry. Among the 339 infertile patients who responded to an online poll conducted by...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.