Correction to This Article
This article about a controversy over a giveaway in Britain of a cycle of in vitro fertilization that would include the use of a Washington area woman's eggs misstated the location of the clinic involved. The Genetics & IVF Institute is in Fairfax County, not Fairfax City

London seminar offering free IVF from Virginia clinic sparks controversy

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Virginia infertility clinic sparked an international ethical controversy Wednesday by sponsoring a seminar in London that gave away an attempt to get pregnant using an American woman's eggs.

More than 100 people attended the 90-minute session at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel, which was organized by the Fairfax City-based Genetics & IVF Institute, one of the United States' largest infertility clinics. As organizers had promised, one of the attendees learned at the end of the seminar that she had won a free cycle of in vitro fertilization using the eggs of a woman from the Washington area, worth about $23,000.

The seminar, designed to entice infertile British women to seek donor eggs in the United States, drew intense criticism from infertility experts, bioethicists and others in Britain and the United States, who likened the event to a crass, commercial come-on similar to a lottery, with the prize being a human body part.

"We strongly have the view that using a raffle to determine who will receive treatment with donor eggs is inappropriate," said a spokesman for the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which regulates infertility care in Britain. "It trivializes altruistic donation, whether of eggs, sperm or embryos."

Officials with the Fairfax clinic defended the seminar, which they said was encouraged to take this approach by advocates for infertility patients and has been used widely in the United States to educate women about their options.

"The idea that we are raffling off an egg is just not the case," said Harvey J. Stern, director of reproductive genetics at the Fairfax clinic. "That's just sensationalist. The offer of a free treatment cycle or package of treatment is not an unusual technique. This is just a niche we saw to offer this service."

The recipient of the free IVF cycle would undergo the procedure at the Fairfax clinic.

Infertility clinics in the United States have long paid women thousands of dollars to provide eggs for those who are unable to get pregnant.

Egg donors receive weeks of hormone injections to stimulate their ovaries into producing multiple eggs and then undergo a painful procedure to extract them. The process can in rare cases cause a dangerous over-stimulation of the ovaries, and there are concerns about the long-term risks of hormonal stimulation.

The donated eggs are mixed in a laboratory with sperm from the recipient's husband or a donor and grown into embryos, which are transferred into the recipient's womb to develop naturally.

European countries, including Britain, prohibit payment for eggs and limit the amount of money a donor can receive to a small amount to cover minor expenses. The result is that eggs are much more difficult to obtain in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, leading increasing numbers of women to travel to the United States.

"This is just about patients trying to get access to treatment they need," said Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. "If they can win a contest that is going to allow them to build their families, and a physician is going to offer a service that can help them do that, then we applaud them."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company