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Last Updated: Monday, 20 June, 2005, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Fertility tourism 'is inevitable'
Frozen samples
Services vary across Europe
Doctors should accept people wanting fertility treatment will travel abroad to get it, experts have been told.

Many people travel for treatment which is either expensive or banned at home, Professor Guido Pennings of the University of Ghent said.

Rather than preventing the practice it should be viewed as a "safety value" helping avoid moral conflict, he said.

Professor Pennings was addressing the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in Denmark.

UK regulators warned people they could be taking a risk by travelling abroad for treatment.

Costs vary

The availability of assisted reproduction techniques such as IVF varies from country to country.

I believe that it is a safety valve that allows some degree of personal freedom for dissenting individual citizens
Professor Guido Pennings

In 2001, for example, Denmark carried out 1,923 cycles per million of its population.

In contrast, the UK carried out 593 cycles per million.

Costs for treatment also vary widely - treatment in countries such as Hungary and Slovenia cost around 2,400 euros (1,608) in 2004, compared to up to 4,000 in the UK.

Better knowledge

Professor Pennings, an expert on ethics and bioethics, said fertility tourism was increasing because people were more used to travelling and were better informed about policies in other countries and clinics by means of the internet.

"Some clinics facilitate foreign patients by offering packages, including visas, hotels and interpreters."

He said Italy was an example of a country where people were voting with their feet after new laws were passed that mean no screening or freezing of pre-implanted embryos; no sperm or egg donation; no surrogacy or embryo research.

"Reproductive tourism illustrates the conflict between ethics and politics," he said.

"Although the majority has the political right to express its moral views in the law, legislation should try not to express the moral convictions of only one group in society."

'Cheaper treatments'

Rather than seeking to harmonise reproduction laws across Europe to prevent such tourism, countries should embrace the diversity, he said.

"It may increase justice by giving people, who cannot pay for the treatment at home, the ability to look for cheaper treatments elsewhere," he said.

IVF success rates are as good in Eastern Europe as elsewhere, but clinics are often unregulated.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority says this means people who travel abroad for treatment could be putting their health at risk.

A spokesman said: "If you go abroad you do not know what you are getting and you are going to be taking a risk."

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