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
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
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
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.
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