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EXCLUSIVE: 'Rafflegate' doctor says Brits travelling to US for IVF

21 March 2010
Appeared in BioNews 550

'More and more' Brits are travelling to the US for donor egg IVF treatment, according to a physician at the heart of last week's 'egg raffle' controversy. The Genetics & IVF Institute (GIVF) near Washington DC has already treated around 10 British women and a further 15 - 20 are interested, Dr Laurence Udoff told reporters at a news briefing on Wednesday.

'It is mainly to do with less availability of egg donors in the UK', according to Dr Udoff, a reproductive endocrinologist at GIVF and lead physician for the donor egg IVF programme. GIVF says it has a large IVF egg donor programme, with 150 - 200 donors.

The clinic hit the headlines last week after 'raffling' an IVF treatment cycle to publicise its link-up with the London Bridge Centre. Patients registering for a free educational seminar held at a London hotel on Wednesday were entered in the draw to win a donor egg and treatment worth, according to news reports, £13,000. A GIVF source told BioNews that, in its native US, the clinic runs similar free seminars every six weeks or so, often offering prizes of free consultations or treatment to attendees. So they were 'surprised' by the hostile press coverage.

'This is fairly routine in the US and, from our naive point of view, we were just doing what we always do and what others in the States do', Dr Udoff told BioNews in an exclusive interview. 'I guess the controversy was about the free cycle which, to our mind was a good thing, but it was perceived differently over here'.

Bridge and GIVF made a deal last autumn, according to news coverage, for Bridge to provide pre-cycle IVF treatment to UK patients who will then fly to the US for the remaining treatment. UK patients save months waiting for a suitable donor and GIVF doctors know the right pre-cycle protocols have been followed, according to Dr Udoff.

'This is a real nice arrangement so that patients who are in the UK can receive their pre-treatment earlier and with less time in and travel to the US', he told BioNews. 'I know the doctors I'm working with so, when I get reports about things, everything is standardised, which makes for better patient care'. Asked if the Bridge/GIVF link-up is something he'd like to see repeated elsewhere, Dr Udoff said: 'It's definitely helpful, because there are nuances to the protocols - different drugs, different ways of measuring'.

Much news coverage of Rafflegate focused on allegations that raffling eggs or paying egg donors large sums cheapens life and exploits women. Unlike in the UK, where egg donors can be paid a maximum £250, GIVF's donors are paid $6,000 per cycle. They can also remain anonymous. Dr Udoff denied claims the US policy exploited women desperate for cash. 'A donor really has to rearrange their life to do this. It's a hard way to make a buck', he said. 'The risks are small, but there are risks. We tell them what they're in for - I go overboard with it'.

A statement on the website of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK's fertility watchdog, said: 'HFEA is strongly of the view that using a form of raffle to determine who will receive treatment with donor eggs is inappropriate. It trivialises altruistic donation'.

Statement regarding raffles and fertility treatment
HFEA |  16 March 2010
The London Bridge Gynaecology and Genetics Centre
The Bridge Centre |  21 March 2010
8 August 2011 - by Dr Anna Smajdor 
In 2007, the world's media reported - with various degrees of shock and disapproval - on a Big Brother-style TV programme being created in Holland. This was Big Brother with a bizarre twist: instead of a cash prize and a moment of minor celebrity, the winner would get ... a kidney. Fast forward to 2011. A similar media outcry has been provoked by the announcement by fertility charity To Hatch of a lottery where the prize is - not cash; not a kidney, but... fertility treatment...
11 July 2011 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
A controversial lottery, offering 25,000 worth of IVF treatment as a prize, has been given the go ahead. The Gambling Commission has licensed To Hatch, a UK charity offering fertility advice, to sell tickets to win the fertility treatment in a monthly draw....
6 April 2010 - by Dr John Parsons 
The time has come to look again at offering proportionate payments to women without a fertility problem who donate eggs. Licensed clinics should stop using eggs from egg sharing arrangements and be banned from supporting links with overseas clinics that use anonymous donors...
22 March 2010 - by Dr Gabrielle Samuel 
'IVF doctors to raffle human egg' ran the Sunday Times headline on 14 March 2010. A seminar sponsored by an American clinic took place in London at which a human egg and a cycle of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment was awarded to one couple who attended...
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....
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