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IVF clinics threatened with action as investigation uncovers catalogue of abuses

2 May 2017

 
This couple say they were exploited by being charged thousands of pounds for dubious "add-ons". They eventually conceived their son naturally. 

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is investigating several fertility clinics after an undercover investigation by the Daily Mail accused them of exploiting couples desperate to have children.

The major allegation against the clinics visited by undercover journalists was that women were being convinced to donate their eggs in return for free IVF. The journalists were encouraged to donate half their healthy eggs in return for free IVF cycles at clinics in London, Hertfordshire and County Durham. 

Exploitation

It is illegal to sell eggs outright, to protect women from exploitation. However, HFEA guidance says that IVF centres "may compensate egg donors a fixed sum of up to £750 per cycle of donation". It also lets clinics offer donors free or discounted treatment – a big incentive when IVF costs around £3,000 a cycle. Their eggs go to a patient who cannot produce her own. The recipient pays up to £7,500 – effectively covering the costs of both women's treatment.

When a woman donates eggs, another woman can end up bearing her biological children. However, Mail reporters recorded nurses saying that "an egg isn't a baby" and "it's just like giving blood". Although women who chose to donate eggs are supposed to have extensive counselling, in part to prepare them for the possibility that another woman might conceive using her eggs, while she herself does not, evidence was uncovered that only one short session was being given. One woman, who claims she was taken advantage of when desperate to have a baby, and donated half her eggs, said: "I kept thinking, 'Has somebody else been successful?' I wondered if I had a child that was genetically mine somewhere."

Horrifying consequences 

A doctor in one clinic admitted that the counselling given was so inadequate that an egg recipient who became pregnant ended up having an abortion because she could not cope with the thought of carrying another woman's child.

Assisted reproduction pioneer Lord Winston said: "These women cannot appreciate the consequences of what they’re agreeing to. These patients are vulnerable and anxious and likely to be worried about money. The women who are egg sharing are under duress and that’s really worrying."

More to come

The Mail says that today is only the first of a major investigation into the fertility industry. Their other allegations are that:

  • Clinics target hard-up couples by offering high interest loans;
  • They sell expensive ‘add on’ treatments that increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth;
  • Career women are misled into thinking they can delay motherhood by freezing their eggs;
  • Doctors may have covered up the number of women suffering with a potentially fatal IVF side-effect;
  • NHS hospitals let private patients jump queues.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the probe launched into the Mail’s revelations by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority had his full support. He added: "I will be paying close attention to the findings and in the meantime urge anyone with concerns to contact the HFEA without delay."

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