Fertility Industry Conning Patients?

Doctor, con and IVF are not words you want to see in the same sentence.

RobertwinstonYet that’s what you’ll find in this strongly worded piece written by Professor Robert Winston, author of a new guide on fertility.  Winston’s scathing analysis of his brethren and the fertility industry that has grown up around treatments is all the more noteworthy since he was a pioneer of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Profiteering and exploitation are not what we usually associate with those who take the Hippocratic oath. Rather we’ve been socialized to view doctors in white coats as trustworthy, ethical purveyors of unbiased health advice so it’s all the more jarring to learn that some are anything but. Winston writes:

As a doctor who has been so closely involved with fertility treatment, I deeply regret that in vitro fertilisation (IVF) has become so commercial. I had thought practitioners would be sensitive enough to realise that they were dealing with people at their most fragile…I am proud that Britain led the way in pioneering IVF. But it has become immensely profitable – and the truth about its success rates is frequently hidden.

The latest entrants in the commercially-driven fertility industry are those hawking egg freezing services. In the land down under this week, Sunday Night, a news magazine show, devoted a segment to the topic and bioethics it raises. In To Freeze or Not to Freeze viewers get a look at the complexities involved in fertility treatment decision-making as well as what’s required to procure eggs. They also hear from those who question the marketing tactics and advise on what to beware of when assessing this new, expensive and largely unproven procedure.

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The segment imparts a clear message: do not be lulled into thinking that egg freezing offers any guarantee of a baby. Beyond the mechanics, health advocate and author Miriam Zoll makes clear that the procedure is not without controversy and risks. She points out that the fertility industry continues to operate without any external oversight, stating plainly to journalist Peta-Jane Madam, “particularly in the United States there’s basic anarchy.”

Without a good framework or consumer protections, those seeking to reconcile infertility or to understand their fertility health are left to their own devices. Blogs and message boards have been the go-to haphazard way to get some idea of what to expect and the people posting are almost invariably doing it under an alias.


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7 thoughts on “Fertility Industry Conning Patients?

  1. How nice that there are some people doing something for the general good, and not just for profit. I suspect the fertility industry will hate it. Sigh.

    (PS. Don’t you just love Lord Winston for speaking out?)

  2. I love that Winston is speaking out! It’s nice to finally see someone in the industry saying what you and others have been saying for quite some time. I loved the analogy he wrote about not immediately heading into open heart surgery for chest pains, yet this is what is often done with IVF. It almost seems predatory.

    FertilityIQ is such a great idea! Sort of like an Angie’s List for REs. Jake’s blog was great too, and licking razor blades was so accurate!

  3. Very interesting! He should know, shouldn’t he?? Perhaps the pendulum is starting to swing back a bit the other way? I wish Jake & Deb luck with their site — perhaps they’ll consider expanding the site to include Canadian drs & clinics? Although I have seen my old RE rated on “rate my dr” sites here, and I’ve seen comments about him on various IVF message boards. He consistently gets rave reviews (mostly from women who have gotten pregnant through his office) — but there are a few negative comments here & there that match my own observations. He was actually investigated (and I believe briefly suspended) by the local college of physicians some years ago for an ethical breach — this was a couple of years after I saw him, but long enough ago that the story has been buried — although if you search Google enough, you will probably find something about it. I am sure a lot of the desperate women coming to see him don’t know about this (and probably don’t care either, if he can help them get pregnant). Sigh.

  4. It amazes me how out-of-control this industry has gotten. So little is being done with research and looking into WHY infertility is growing as a disease. Instead the focus is on capitalizing on having patients go through these procedures again and again. As someone who experienced the explanation of “bad luck,” I’m still unhappy.

    I firmly believe an informed patient is an empowered one. Which is why I’m so glad to see this review of FertilityIQ.

  5. […] Truth in Medicine. I’ve long wondered why ob/gyn’s didn’t have a greater share of voice in our culture when it comes to the reality of biology and the various ‘fertility’ procedures peddled so boldly. […]

  6. […] also not cool to raise the con of fertility treatment marketing. Yes, the con of fertility treatment marketing. As Ken Kesey once famously said, “The secret of being a top-notch con man is being able to […]

  7. Mali sent me in this direction, as I commented on my most recent blog post that we seem to be herded into IVF instead of being offered couselling around the whole infertility thing and that I’m cynical as there’s no money in offering counselling as an alternative. No, just pressgang people straight into this environment where ‘anything is possible’ because they kind of make you buy into the whole ‘hope’ package.

    Its obsence. I also wish I’d listened to that little instinctive voice inside of me when we were about to embark on round 2 of a fresh IVF cycle. Then I wouldn’t be questioned as to why I still have such a large mortgage at my age when I don’t have children (we remortgaged to finance the treatment) – cue wry laughter on my behalf…!

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