PROBLEMS in accessing donor sperm and eggs at home appear to be behind a reported increase in the number of UK citizens who seek fertility treatment abroad, despite the fact that this is widely seen as risky. Now, a team of academic experts, including a University of Huddersfield professor, have investigated the phenomenon and analysed the attitudes of health professionals.
The researchers found little support for legal controls on cross-border fertility treatment, but UK-based clinicians stressed the importance of checking out overseas fertility clinics in order to make sure they meet UK standards and pose minimal risk to patients.
Eric Blyth, who is Professor of Social Work at the University of Huddersfield and an acknowledged expert on issues such as infertility and surrogacy, is a member of a six-strong research team, based at a range of UK universities, which carried out a study into the growth of overseas travel for fertility treatment.
The group has now described its first phase of findings in an article in the 2013 edition of the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology.
There are few robust statistics on the numbers travelling overseas for egg or sperm donation, states the article, but it concludes that "there would appear to be growing international brokering in gametes and overseas clinics, largely driven by the donor shortage in the UK".
Now further research is needed into how professionals and patients "navigate this form of transnational reproduction".
The article claims that media representations of what is often dubbed "fertility tourism" have many of the hallmarks of a "classic moral panic". Despite the fact that IVF is now widely accepted as a legitimate form of reproduction, people who travel overseas to receive it are frequently seen as "deviant users" of the technology, sometimes depicted as selfish "baby shoppers". Sensationalist examples of older mothers and multiple pregnancies are used to bolster such views.
"Those who cross borders for treatment are frequently portrayed as illegitimately challenging nature, or "playing God", in wanting to "design" their babies by selecting their sex or seeking out particular physical or intellectual abilities," states the article.
Professionals in the field take a more complex, nuanced view, but they often represent cross-border reproductive travel as risk-laden.