Fertility treatment abroad

There is something called ‘fertility tourism’ whereby people choose to go abroad for fertility treatment. Long waiting lists and the high expense of treatment has led to an ever increasing number of people choosing this option as it can be cheaper and quicker than the UK.

There are fertility clinics in other countries which provide treatment at a lower cost and, generally, to the same standard as the UK.

However, note the emphasis on the word ‘generally’. Many of these clinics operate at the same high standards as you will find here in the UK but there are a few who don’t. As with any form of medical tourism there are unscrupulous clinics who are only interested in profit and not in your well being.

It can be tempting to have an ‘IVF holiday’ in which your treatment is combined with a relaxing break in an exotic location but there are risks with doing so. For example, offering treatments which have been banned in the UK because they are proven to be harmful to the patient.

The problem is that clinics abroad operate by different rules and standards than the UK. Fertility clinics in the UK are governed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) which operates a Code of Practice. This ensures that a clinic is safe, professional and concerned about patient welfare.

HFEA has information on every clinic, the type of services it offers and its success rates.

And the EU Tissues and Cells Directive has a set of criteria which must be adhered to by countries within the EU.

But HEFA do not have the power to regulate clinics outside of the UK and so cannot assure people that these clinics are reputable and safe.

What you need to do is to weigh up the risks against the benefits. So consider the following:

  • Success rates in other countries: it may not be as easy to access success rates for overseas clinics as you can with UK ones. And their rates may be calculated differently than here.

    Plus look at what an overseas clinic defines as a ‘success rate’: you may find that they don’t include treatment cycles that were stopped before embryo transfer.

  • Confidentiality: patient information must be kept confidential so check to see if this is the case. Who will have access to this information and what happens to it if the clinic closes down? Does the clinic ensure that important information isn’t destroyed?

  • Storage of donor information: donors are anonymous in the UK. HEFA has a central register of donor information which can be accessed by people aged 18 or over. This is particularly useful for children who reach the age of 18 and want to know who the donor is.

    Some overseas clinics may hold donor information but others may not.

  • Complaints: UK clinics have a complaints process but this will be different in overseas clinics. Try to find out how a complaint would be dealt with in a foreign clinic.

  • Donors: the UK has clear rules on donation. This includes guidelines on expenses and/or loss of earnings for donors. Another factor is that all donors are interviewed, offered counselling and screened for diseases before being accepted for donation.

    Does the same procedure apply in overseas clinics?

  • Importing sperm, eggs or embryos: if you have treatment abroad but choose to have sperm, eggs or embryos from the UK then your treatment will not entered on the HFEA register.

    So if your children want to know who the donor is then they will be unable to find this out.

  • Surrogacy:this means having a baby on behalf of an infertile couple. If you enter this type of agreement in another country then check to see how laws in this country and abroad apply to you.

It’s a good idea to draw up a shortlist of questions to ask an overseas clinic if your treatment will involve donated sperm, eggs and embryos.

These can include:

  • How do you recruit egg donors?
  • What information will you have about the donors?
  • How do you recruit donors?
  • What is your donor screening process?
  • Do your donors have any legal rights towards the baby?
  • Do you have official accreditation?
  • Can I talk to a specialist before I arrive?
  • Can I speak to any of your patients or do you have any testimonials I can look at?
  • What treatments do you offer?
  • Do your staff speak English or do you have translators?
  • What aftercare is available?
  • What are your success rates?

Other considerations include the costs of flights and accommodation, tests and fertility drugs. And think about the cost of flights if you have to make repeat visits to the clinic.

Aftercare is another important factor. Obtain names, addresses and contact details of the specialists and staff at the clinic in case anything goes wrong. Ideally your aftercare should be the same as the UK but this isn’t always the case.

If you have researched everything thoroughly then everything should run smoothly. Many couples have undergone fertility treatment aboard and have found it to be a positive experience so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have the same.

HFEA have advised patients who are thinking of going to an overseas clinic to think very carefully before doing so. They argue that they don’t regulate overseas clinics so if a patient reports a problem with their treatment that they are unable to help.

At the end of the day it is your decision.

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