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Regulation needed for fertility industry - expert
Tue Mar 28, 2006 1:32 PM GMT162

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Fertility treatment is a multi-billion dollar global industry that needs regulation to protect infertile couples and assure equal access to treatment, a leading American economist said on Tuesday.

Without national or international regulation and better information, treatments such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) will become a luxury market that only the wealthy can afford.

"Rich infertile people will be able to reproduce at will and poor people will be left with far fewer options," said Professor Debora Spar of the Harvard Business School in Massachusetts.

The author of "The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception" said too little information is available for couples on the costs, success rates and risk of treatments.

And neither fertility experts nor patients seeking treatment want to acknowledge that they are in a commercial relationship.

Spar said countries need to grapple with decisions about whether infertility is a medical condition, who should be given treatments and how it should be provided.

"These are tough political decisions and that is why I think countries have been reluctant to grapple with them. But we have to," she added in a briefing for reporters.


In the United States the baby business is a 3 billion dollar annual industry, while in Britain it is calculated to be 1 billion dollars.

The core market for treatments are infertile couples. Same-sex couples, single people, patients with genetic disorders and couples wanting to select the gender of their child also seek treatments.

The disparity in the cost of treatments and what is allowed in various countries has created an international market, with people traveling abroad to get what they can't get at home or for a cheaper price.

Spar, who will present her findings on Wednesday at the annual conference of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) which regulates treatments in Britain, said the cost of egg donation in the United States ranges from 4,500-50,000 dollars.

She predicts the new wave will be embryo donation or sales.

"When people want children and cannot produce children they will do virtually anything," she said, adding that infertile couples do not behave as rational consumers.

Because several treatments may be necessary, the average price of a baby conceived through assisted reproduction in the United States is 58,000 dollars. The average cost for IVF is 12,400 dollars.

"I don't think the market, as it is now, is an optimal market. We need to start by confessing this is a market," Spar added.

Problems such as lack of information, long-term health implications of treatments for the mother and child and equality of access to treatments need to be addressed. Spar said only 1 percent of infertile couples are getting treatment.

She argues that lower prices will widen access to treatment and maintain profit margins for doctors providing it.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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