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02-04-2013 | Legal medicine | Article

UK clinicians show little support for controlling ‘fertility tourism’


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medwireNews: Research shows there is little support among health professionals in the UK for legal controls on cross-border fertility treatment.

However, the clinicians participating in the study did stress the importance of assessing overseas clinics to make sure they meet required standards and pose minimal risk to patients.

Led by Lorraine Culley, from De Montfort University in Leicester, UK, the research team investigated how "fertility tourism" is perceived by professionals involved in fertility treatment in the UK.

They questioned five infertility clinicians, seven nurses and coordinators, three specialist infertility counselors, three patient support group/voluntary sector representatives, and two legal and regulatory advisors. Each was asked to discuss their perception of cross-border reproductive travel and their view on the potential responsibilities of regulators, professional bodies, and other agencies toward cross-border treatment.

As reported in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, all participants considered that treatment abroad should be a legitimate choice for patients.

However, most stated that this choice was also associated with potential risks that patients would "have to negotiate and manage." They said that few would choose to travel abroad if the treatment they needed was available in the UK.

Concerns expressed by the clinicians included the control of quality and safety standards overseas; the need to protect patients against incompetence and negligence; an alleged lack of psychologic support in some clinics; and inadequate information about possible health risk to patients, donors, or offspring.

All of the participants said that if restriction on forms of overseas treatment were introduced, these laws would be impossible to monitor; "Who can prove where a child is conceived?" writes the research team.

Culley et al say: "In the absence of formal international regulation of standards and procedures, many participants reflected that professionals had a key role to play in 'educating' people about possible risks and to ensure that patients were aware of the issues that they need to consider when having treatment abroad; awareness of the possibilities of differences in safety procedures; and appreciation of the potential legal implications of treatment outside the UK."

They conclude: "Further research is required to assess the impact of professional views and actions on patient choices and patient experiences of treatment, before, during, and after travelling abroad."

By Nikki Withers, medwireNews Reporter

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