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IVF Tourism Marred by Ethical Differences in EU

There should be a basic set of standards among the European Union countries regarding the IVF tourism some experts believe. There needs to be reduced legal differences between countries that are encouraging reproductive tourism."

The term 'reproductive tourism' refers to people travelling to countries other than their own for fertility treatments because it may be cheaper or easier to access that over there. According to Guido Pennings, professor of ethics and bioethics at the University of Ghent, Belgium, thousands of people travel between European countries each year, seeking to take advantage of more liberal fertility laws or cheaper treatment prices. 'The number of movements is increasing because people are more used to traveling and are more informed about policies in other countries and clinics by means of the internet', he said. He added that there may also be an increase because 'some clinics facilitate access by foreign patients by offering packages including visas, hotels and interpreters'

National laws banning infertility therapies that are available elsewhere in the European Union are denying couples the chance to start a family and driving others to seek expensive treatment abroad, according to Professor Paul Devroey, of Brussels Free University.

Many assisted reproduction techniques that are considered to be best practice in some EU member states are heavily restricted or outlawed in others, and safety measures introduced in parts of Europe are contravened routinely elsewhere.

Like some British couples desperate for a baby are traveling abroad for fertility treatment because of a shortage of egg donors in the UK.

Patients blame the change in the law that gives children born through egg or sperm donation the right to trace their biological parents. Many of them are traveling to Spain, Cyprus and Eastern Europe.

Germany and Italy, for example, ban embryo-freezing, egg donation and embryo-screening for inherited diseases, forcing couples who need these services to pay for treatment in countries that permit them, such as Britain, Spain and Belgium.

Rules on the maximum number of embryos that can be transferred to a womans womb also differ widely, despite the scientific consensus that the safest policy is to limit implants.

Professor Pennings told the conference that there is 'a general move to former East European centers because of the lower financial costs and towards Spain for oocyte donation', where they have more donors because women can be paid for donating their eggs. But he said that this movement was not problematic as it allows a degree of individual freedom for individuals: 'There is no unified European culture and no consensus on substantive human values', he said, adding that the implication would be that 'European decisions would have the same problems as national restrictive laws but on an even higher level. The main reason for leaving these decisions to national states is that reproductive matters should be decided by the people concerned'

Professor Devroey, chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), told The Times that there was an urgent need for uniformity based on the best scientific advice, to secure access to effective treatments and to protect patients. He is setting up a task force to compare legislation and to propose a basic set of standards, and he wants the European Commission and the European Parliament to consider how rules might be harmonized. The human right to reproduction and access to assisted reproductive technology \ for infertile couples should be preserved in similar legislation throughout Europe as part of a unified strategy to address human infertility, Professor Devroey said.

The EU would do better to look into basic clinical standards for fertility treatment, so that IVF patients in every country could be assured o f high-quality care.


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