Global Outsourcing of IVF

December 13, 2010Carole 2 Comments »

I touched on the topic of medical tourism in a previous post, Affordable IVF?, in which I talked about “IVF Vacations” and patients seeking IVF outside the US because it was less expensive.  But this practice has expanded considerably for patients who need donor eggs or sperm or the services of a gestational surrogate to have a child.

As described in this fascinating Wall Street Journal article, Assembling the Global Baby, sperm donor,  egg donor and surrogate can be citizens of three different countries with an IVF clinic orchestrating the cycle from a fourth country. Why in the world would anyone want to complicate their family building in this way? Actually, there are very practical reasons for this glob trotting.

  • International adoptions have become more difficult to get in some countries for some intended parents due to restrictive adoption laws.
  • Using a surrogate may cost $200,000 in the US, but only $6000 in India.
  • In Greece, it is illegal for a gestational surrogate to refuse to give up her baby, which is added peace of mind for intended parents who are worried about surrogates refusing to give up the baby for adoption.
  • Same sex and older couples wanting to adopt infants face considerable obstacles to adoption in some countries, including the US.
  • In some countries, sperm and egg donors are prohibited from receiving payment for donation which has resulted in donor shortages, forcing couples to look outside their home country for donors.
  • Another factor that may have played a role in current sperm donor shortages in some Western European countries (Sweden, United Kingdom, Switzerland) and  Australia are new laws supporting the rights of donor-conceived children which no longer permit donors to remain anonymous.
  • Some countries forbid oocyte donation used in IVF for any reason (Austria, Germany, Norway and Sweden). Other countries specifically permit egg donation only for infertility treatment or to avoid disease transmission (Denmark, France, Spain and the UK). You can learn more about egg donation laws in Europe in this article by Jennifer Gunning  

Where there is a need, someone quickly figures out a way to create a business by filling that need. Planet Hospital is a large medical tourism company started in 2002 which can arrange medical tourism services for a wide variety of medical procedures for clients all over the world.  Third party IVF and surrogacy are just one of its many medical offerings. Planet Hospital acts as a go between to match patients with services and physicians abroad who offer hard to get or expensive services such as  cancer treatments, various kinds of cosmetic surgery, fertility treatment and sex change operations.  On their site, you can review information about physicians offering IVF surrogacy that Planet Hospital recommends. Services start at $32,000. Planet Hospital advertises various  “Concierge Services” to make your travel, as well as medical experience go smoothly.

What could possibly go wrong with this scenario? Not surprisingly, quite a lot. This new area of global medical tourism has no uniform global oversight, but is subject to various laws as they apply from country to country. One problem is that babies can be lost in citizen limbo until the child’s parentage is sorted out, especially when intended parents must adopt their child in another country after the surrogate gives birth.

If something does go wrong and you look to the law to settle a dispute with Planet Hospital or the surrogate, will you be litigating across borders? Planet Hospital clients must agree to abide by arbitration under California law, the state where Planet Hospital is incorporated.

I think there is nothing inherently wrong with patients seeking to build families through medical tourism, especially when their home countries set up legal or social barriers to family building. But there is much that can go wrong with such complicated arrangements spanning multiple international borders and few (if any) protections for the patients, children and donors when things do go wrong.

© 2010, Carole. All rights reserved.

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