Britons were urged on Friday to think twice about going abroad for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and other types of fertility treatment.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which monitors fertility clinics in England and Wales, said couples should think twice about the risks and implications before booking an IVF holiday.
“We know that a relatively small number of people choose to travel abroad to undergo fertility treatment and that sometimes the treatment is packaged as a ‘holiday’ where the patient can convalesce in the sun,” said Suzi Leather, the chair of the HFEA.
“However we are concerned that people who choose to have their treatment abroad should know about the potential risks,” she added in a statement.
The HFEA said patients should consider what happens if something goes wrong, whether their information is kept confidential, the legal position of donors of eggs or sperm and how they are recruited, screened and compensated.
Leather said she has heard stories of foreign clinics offering treatments to patients that could be dangerous, such as implanting five embryos to increase the chances of a pregnancy.
Implanting two or more embryos can increase the odds of having a multiple birth, which can be dangerous for the mother and the babies.
“We would urge patients to think twice and consider the risks and implications before going abroad for treatment,” Leather added.
Infertility Network UK, a support organisation, backed the HFEA’s warning but added that some patients are being forced to travel abroad because they cannot access the treatment they need in Britain.
“The shortage of egg and sperm donors has led to unacceptably long waiting lists in some areas and we know of clinics where the waiting lists have been closed and couples are no longer being accepted for treatment due to the lack of donors,” said Clare Brown, the chief executive of the group.
But she added that the standard of care and treatment in other countries may not be as high as it is in Britain.
Infertility affects about one in six couples worldwide. Providing fertility treatment is a multi-billion dollar global industry.
Declining natural fertility, rapid scientific advances in treatment, and a mix of national regulations has prompted couples wanting babies to go abroad for cheaper or quicker procedures or treatments they cannot get at home.
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD