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EU IVF rules 'need standardising'

2nd July 2007

Top European in-vitrio fertilisation (IVF) experts have called for laws governing fertility treatment to be standardised across the European Union, which currently has widely varying practices.

Embryo

Discrepancies between countries have led to an upsurge in 'fertility tourism' within Europe, as couples seek to avoid restrictions in their home countries.

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

For example, Germany and Italy ban embryo-freezing, egg donation and embryo screening for inherited diseases, leading to rise in the number of couples seeking those services in the United Kingdom, Spain and Belgium.

Also, safety measures introduced in some places are routinely contravened elsewhere, such as rules about whether every successful embryo must be implanted in the womb, heightening the risk of multiple births.

British couples are known to travel to Spain, Cyprus and Eastern Europe in search of egg donors because Britain has a long waiting list, mainly because donors can be paid a maximum of just £250 for expenses and lost earnings.

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

Professor Devroey, who is also the chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, said uniformity was urgently needed.

Devroey is currently setting up a group to look at legislation on this issue across the EU and to propose unified regulations.

“There is only one human body and human reproductive system,? he told a recent conference on fertility treatment. “It is quite astonishing that well-proven treatments are not allowed in some countries, some of which also have laws on embryo transfer that are not in the best interests of patients’ health. What this has done is to build medical tourism into a billion-euro market. It’s very sad for me to see patients coming to my clinic because their countries’ own laws are needlessly restrictive, and sadder still for the patients.?

Other experts have called instead for the EU to look into basic clinical standards for fertility treatment, sidestepping politically sensitive confrontations over the issue.

 

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