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What's driving UK fertility tourism? First study published

5 July 2010
Appeared in BioNews 565

Expensive UK fertility treatment and long waiting times related to a shortage of egg and sperm donors are the major reasons people seek fertility treatment abroad, according to the first academic study into cross-border reproductive care.

Researchers from De Montfort University (DMU), in collaboration with the universities of Sheffield, Huddersfield and Swansea, interviewed 51 people. They found that 71 per cent of those interviewed went abroad to seek treatment using donor gametes. Out of those, 46 per cent of couples were having treatment using donor eggs, 12 per cent using donor sperm and 10 per cent using donor egg and sperm.

The high cost of treatment in the UK was cited as another reason couples seek treatment abroad; most IVF is not funded by the NHS and can cost a minimum of £4,500. The participants were also interviewed about their experiences abroad. The majority of couples were very positive and reported high standards of care.

Lead researcher Professor Lorraine Culley from De Montfort University said the research has: 'helped to dispel some of the myths commonly associated with having fertility treatment abroad'.

'To date, it has often been assumed that women who seek treatment in other countries do so because they are too old to be treated in the UK. It has also been reported that if they become pregnant, they place a burden on the NHS by giving birth to twins or triplets'.

The average age of women having treatment among the participants was 38.9 years old, and only 19 per cent of those who had successful treatment experienced multiple pregnancies, compared with the most recent figure of 23 per cent in the UK.

Professor Culley said the study participants felt they were often misrepresented in the media, and felt that term 'fertility tourism' was 'negative and inaccurate, especially given the considerable effort and emotional upheaval involved when undertaking treatment overseas'.

The study reveals some of the possible consequences of the egg and sperm donor shortage. Tony Rutherford, the chairman of the British Fertility Society (BFS) said: 'the UK sector is making positive moves to combat this shortage'. He said the BFS was working with the Department of Health to promote sperm donor recruitment and improve donor numbers.

Mr Rutherford added: 'the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority (HFEA) are reviewing regulation surrounding egg and sperm donation with a report due in early 2011'.

As to the reasons for donor shortages, Professor Culley explained that the issue of the impact of anonymity on donor availability in the UK is complex. A small number of study participants wanted to ensure donor anonymity (and hence needed to travel abroad) and yet others wanted additional donor information than what would be available to them in the UK.

The motivation for the change in the law reducing donor anonymity was the impact on the donor-conceived offspring, but, Professor Culley says: 'we might have to accept that the impact of this could well be to act as a disincentive to those who might otherwise consider altruistic donation'.

De Montfort University |  28 June 2010
7 April 2014 - by Dr Ruth Curson 
Sadly, there are currently not enough egg and sperm donors in the UK to meet our needs. Recipients are now seeking alternative routes to find donors, either by travelling abroad or from unregulated internet sites: both with the potential for unwanted consequences...
4 July 2011 - by Rose Palmer 
The shortage of egg and sperm donors, and the cost of IVF in the UK, need to be addressed to reduce the number of people travelling abroad for fertility treatment, according to a report published this week....
29 November 2010 - by Dr Vivienne Raper 
Are European airlines bursting with 'fertility tourists' risking their health by travelling abroad? Do most people seeking fertility treatment overseas fit the media stereotype - white, middle-class career women over 50? Does cross-border reproductive care (CBRC) include eggs imported from abroad? Dr Fran├žoise Shenfield and Professor Lorraine Culley tried to answer these questions during the first session of last Wednesday's Progress Educational Trust (PET) annual conference...
15 November 2010 - by Dr Zeynep Gurtin 
The Progress Educational Trust's conference next week will tackle the subject of Cross-border Reproductive Care (CBRC), with a range of UK experts coming together to present the evidence and argue over the ethical conundrums. Although the contested term 'reproductive tourism' has firmly entered public vernacular through the popular media, as yet little is known about this rapidly growing phenomenon...
18 October 2010 - by Dr Francoise Shenfield 
Cross-border reproductive care is becoming more widespread, but is fraught with safety concerns. We at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) have no objection to patients seeking reproductive treatments outside their home country. But to protect patient safety, we believe there should be a Code of Practice (COP) to protect patients, donors and potential surrogates...
28 June 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Couples from Italy are at the top of the list of foreign couples seeking fertility treatment abroad, researchers report today at the 26th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), in Rome...
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....
30 April 2006 - by BioNews 
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...
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