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Clinic offers free IVF treatment to winners of video competition

25 June 2012
Appeared in BioNews 662

The Sher Institute, a network of eight fertility clinics in the USA, has announced the three couples to win an IVF giveaway contest.

The Institute announced the competition for a cycle of free IVF treatment in May. Couples were asked to make a video no longer than five minutes about their struggle to start a family.

The 'I Believe Video Journal Project' was entered by 45 couples and was part of the Institute's 'Giving Back' initiative, aimed at helping couples in the USA that need advanced fertility treatment, but cannot afford it.

A panel of specialists from varying areas of fertility treatment chose six finalists. Their videos were put on the Sher Institute's Facebook site, where the public cast their votes on which of the couples most deserved the $12,000 procedure.

Initially the Institute had planned on granting the prize to just one finalist. But before results were announced on 15 June, it was decided that three couples were to be awarded.

'There are so many couples in need of help to conceive, and every one of them has a unique and compelling story', said Dr Geoffrey Sher founder and executive medical director of the Institute. 'We are happy to be able to help in a small way through this contest'.

But Time magazine reports that even some of the judges questioned the competition's ethics. 'It felt like playing God', Erika Tabke told the publication. 'As I selected them, I thought, this is unfair'.

As founder of IVF Connections, a website for people going through infertility, she applauded Sher for his generosity but doubts she'll serve as a judge again.

Elsewhere in Time's feature, Dr Samantha Pfeifer, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's practice committee, called the competition 'a publicity manoeuvre'.

'What makes it weird is that you're creating a life, and that puts it into a different category', she said. 'But if you think of it as a medical procedure you have to pay cash for, you could think of it as giving away a free car. We need a car, but we can't afford it - let's go for it'.

Since founding the Institute in the 1980s, Dr Geoffrey Sher has organised several similar competitions. Some winners have been randomly selected, others chosen by a 'hardship committee' and more recently an essay competition was organised.

Dr Sher posted a response to the Time article on the Institute's website. He says that 'while this is relatively uncharted territory, my experience over the years in donating treatments and discounting services through non-profit organisations, has convinced me that as long as we do this with the proper intent, with humility and with empathy, we are doing the right thing'.

12 September 2011 - by Kyrillos Georgiadis 
A Canadian radio station has caused shock by announcing a competition in which contestants will compete for the chance to win a baby. The event is even being promoted by an advert featuring a baby holding up a sign saying 'Win me!'...
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....
23 November 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens 
The Lister Fertility Clinic in London is offering free fertility treatment to 21 couples to mark its 21st birthday and the opening of their newly expanded clinic. Mr Sam Abdalla, Medical Director of the clinic, said that the gesture was part of the clinic's 'duty to make treatment more accessible' and an ongoing commitment to offer a number of free cycles each year as part of the clinic's 'community programme.'...
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