ORGANISERS of an upcoming fertility conference which will offer those attending the opportunity to win a gift of one free £5,500 treatment have defended the gesture in the face of a barrage of complaints.
Fertility Focus, an Edinburgh-based charity, has teamed up with Barcelona IVF to offer attendees a choice between one free cycle of IVF or a free egg from an anonymous donor. Those who meet a set of criteria submitted a form. One couple will have their form chosen during the conference.
The event takes place in the city’s Sheraton Hotel on 6 September and is expected to draw hundreds of would-be parents and industry experts.
Dr Raul Olivares, of Barcelona IVF said: “The idea behind the meeting and the gift is to support a charity organisation that is helping patients by making more people attend the meeting. No one is obliged to subscribe anything nor to pay money, it’s just a gift to support some really helpful people.”
He went on to reveal how his clinic offered similar one-off treatments to attendees at at conference in Glasgow in 2012 and in Dublin in 2013.
However, some ethical groups have been quick to deride the offer as a “prize” and akin to a “lottery draw”.
Josephine Quintavalle, founder of the pressure group Comment On Reproductive Ethics, said: “It is very difficult not to read this as a marketing ploy to ensure that as many vulnerable couples as possible attend the conference. Free IVF does not, of course, guarantee a child but human dignity is badly served by such a lottery style approach.”
The UK’s watchdog for fertility, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has also raised concerns about the offer.
A spokesman said: “As we have previously expressed with similar IVF lottery based competitions, the HFEA has real concerns about the idea of IVF treatment being offered as a winning prize.”
Juliet Le Page of Fertility Focus added: “Personally I think it’s a wonderful gift that Dr Olivares and his team are making – the giving of one free IVF treatment. I know that when my husband and I were looking to have treatment abroad we would have jumped at the chance of this opportunity.”
One of the UK’s most popular clinics is The Lister Clinic in London which recently offered 25 free treatments to celebrate their 25th anniversary.
Announcing the offer, clinic owner Hossam Abdalla said: “We believe that infertility is a medical condition like any other and we would like to see childless couples given more access to IVF treatment. Sadly with current budget constraints across the country, the opposite is happening.”
Earlier this year health minister, Michael Matheson, announced new rules to provide “fair, reliable and faster access” to NHS IVF treatment plus a £12 million investment aimed at driving down waiting times over the next three years.
In recent years as women wait longer to have families, the demand for IVF has increased hugely. Under the new rules, women under 40 will be guaranteed two free cycles of fertility treatment.