Bioethicists in U.S. and Australia Call for Fertility Industry Regulation, More Transparency

When a former member of the ethics committee for the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) calls for fertility industry regulation we should sit up and pay attention.

Earlier this month George Annas, a Boston University School of Public Health professor and chair of health law, wrote a blistering opinion piece, It’s Time to Regulate the Fertility Industry, to combat what he sees as a fertility industry run amok. While he acknowledges that some people have been helped to have children they could not otherwise have, we can no longer leave patients at the “mercy of the market and unscrupulous practitioners.”

The industry does not, and perhaps simply cannot, police itself. — George Annas

Annas first raised concerns about the direction of the fertility industry in a PBS FRONTLINE interview a few years ago saying, medicine in this field is frequently second to the marketing,” but his recent opinion piece contains some new statistics, recommendations and tougher talk.

Buyer beware may be a good slogan at a fast food restaurant, but it should have no place in the practice of medicine, and no place in a medical industry.

— George Annas

To underscore one of many important points about the fertility industry’s lack of accountability, of ART babies he notes 36 percent are born prematurely (compared to 12 percent of non-ART babies). Annas writes, “If we really relied on the market to regulate ARTs, for example, we would require ART clinics to pay for the neonatal ICU care of multiple births. This would likely eliminate the practice of using more than a single embryo per cycle, the most common cause of multiple in vitro fertilization births.”

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It’s hard to argue against this assessment: “The market is the wrong model for the fertility industry. It should be regulated like other medical procedures that have both benefits and risks, with the goal of minimizing the risks to both a woman and her planned children.

We must move beyond the market to medical and family law rules.

Could not agree with you more, George. I hope U.S. government officials, patient/consumer health advocates and industry watchdogs take your message about the need to reform and regulate the fertility industry to heart.

Last month in Australia there were similar calls for fertility industry transparency and better clinic oversight. An article in BioEdge highlighted a piece written by lawyer and bioethicist Loretta Houlahan who criticised the suppression of clinic success rates saying “the current system perpetuates a lack of accountability.”

As couples enter pristine Australian IVF clinics with their smiling staff and photos of bright-as-a-button babies, they are usually unaware of the harsh reality of IVF success rates. The statistics are worse than most would think.

Read Houlahan’s full piece, The ART of Deception — IVF Success Rates Are Not What You Think, here in The Conversation.

Coincidentally, on the topic of questionable fertility industry practices and marketing hype TIME magazine takes a hard look at the newest fertility industry offering ‘social egg freezing.’ You can find this well-researched investigative article, The Truth About Freezing Your Eggs, in the July 27 edition.

Article Excerpts: “Egg freezing, women are told, is a fountain of youth. Like most such promises, it doesn’t quite deliver. Some women will take home babies from their frozen eggs, but many won’t. And for a procedure pitched to anxious women as an ‘insurance policy,’ there is shockingly little data on exactly what their chances are.”

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“A lot of these clinics massage their data,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, an ob-gyn who teaches obstetrics at Yale School of Medicine. “All of this stuff is a gamble, and I would certainly hate like heck to have anybody count on this as an absolute guarantee.”

I am honored to be among those quoted:

“If doctors are trying to manage egg freezing expectations, some women who have tried multiple rounds of IVF are downright skeptical. ‘There is unfortunately a real growth industry here around those who see dollars and not necessarily babies,’ says Pamela Tsigdinos, an infertility blogger and the author of Silent Sorority, who attempted IVF cycles with fresh eggs. ‘You don’t see women on stage like me talking about the absolute heartbreak,’ she says. ‘The doctors keep telling you your eggs and embryos look fabulous, and then you’re left sitting in the dark room with the phone and someone has just told you you’re not pregnant.’ ”  Read the full story here >>>

Newsletter subscribers already heard about this accolade. (Thanks for the shout outs in the previous post comments). Wanted to share here on the blog as well.

Time Inc.’s Health Magazine Names Silent Sorority ‘Top 10 Health Blog’

Congratulations! Give yourself a round of applause because you, dear readers, are at the heart of what made this blog one of Health Magazine‘s Top 10. This is an honor we share collectively. Read more here.


Lots to consider on where the fertility industry is headed. Welcome your comments. Read more on health, bioethics and related material here.