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Last Updated: Friday, 27 June 2003, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
The baby business
Petrie dish
Is the law protecting patients' interests?
Panorama: The Baby Business will be broadcast on BBC One on Sunday, 6 July, 2003 at 2215 BST.

It is 25 years ago this month since the world's first test-tube baby was born, Louise Brown's birth heralded a new dawn in fertility treatment.

But even then her creator, Dr Patrick Steptoe, warned that it was a branch of science that would need to be carefully regulated:

"It is of course something that requires to be very carefully controlled and given to people in a very strictly medical and ethical manner," he said.

A quarter of a decade later, 70 000 babies have been born through assisted conception.

But these days, making babies is big business. And the body that's supposed to regulate treatment - the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - is struggling to keep up to date with what's going on inside Britain's fertility clinics.

As more women are forced to pay for fertility treatment privately, Panorama investigates whether loopholes in the HFEA's regulations are allowing vulnerable women to be exploited.

'Commerical coercion?'

The programme reveals that one of Harley Street's best-known clinics offers cut-price treatment to women in exchange for their eggs.

Some experts say the scheme forces desperate women to take unnecessary health risks and it's been condemned as "commercial coercion".

The programme hears powerful testimony from women who gave the clinic their eggs and have been left feeling used.

Panorama also exposes the failure of the HFEA's inspections process.

The programme examines the regulator's role in one of the recent IVF scandals and discovers that in 1997, one of the clinics wasn't visited by any of the scientific members of the inspection team.

Finally, Panorama reveals how the cash-strapped NHS has to pick up the pieces when things go wrong at private clinics.

As well as being left to treat women who've become ill after egg donation, the NHS is counting the cost of all the twins and triplets born as a result of IVF treatment.

Production team:
Reporter: Shelley Jofre
Producer: Nicole Kleeman
Deputy Editors: Andy Bell, Sam Collyns
Editor: Mike Robinson




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