Trying for a baby can be the most trying time, and the wonders of IVF - 40 years old this year - have brought many very happy couples much joy. That’s why it’s so very troubling to learn that private IVF clinics - already charging thousands for women to undergo fertility treatment - are charging more money for supplementary treatments - add-ons - that are not proven to have worked.
Driven by an ‘intensely competitive’ market, where there’s a lot of money to be made from would-be parents, clinics are selling duds, effectively undermining patients’ trust, according to a report from the regulator, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
In a joint statement with 10 other organisations such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, ‘There is currently no conclusive evidence that any of the add-ons offered in fertility treatment increase the chance of a pregnancy or live birth,’ reports The Times.
Peter Thompson, chief executive of the HFEA, said: ‘We are concerned that too many patients are being offered unproven treatment add-ons. While we do not want to put up unreasonable barriers to clinical innovation, we believe such add-ons should be available only where there is proof they work.’
In 2016, a review of private clinics’ add-ons was done by the University of Oxford. Excluding specific treatments offered to women with, say, spinal injuries or polycystic ovaries, and standard IVF treatments, the remaining 27 treatments were add-ons.
These include things like genetic screening, sperm DNA tests, ovarian tissue freezing and time-lapse embryo imaging. Of these interventions, 19 of them had no basis in research and two - assisted hatching (where the embryos are released from their shell, known as the zona pellucida, by fertility practitioners) and examination of the uterus - were advised against.
We’ve also heard reports of one IVF clinic injecting women with a sort of mayonnaise in order to encourage their bodies to conceive.
People are willing to part with thousands of pounds of money to have the baby they've long wanted to conceive, and while it seems like the whole self-funded quest should be their lookout, women’s bodies are seemingly being tested on, their hopes being lifted, by the seeming promise of procedures that doctors have no right to say actually work.
Of course, there are complications when it comes to testing and research into various fertility-related methods - can you do IVF on mice and does it relate to human women? Can you ethically do clinical trials on pregnant women? These are just some of many questions practitioners need to ask.
But in light of other news today, that more than 40,000 women in England haven’t received information on cervical cancer screening because the NHS didn’t send out letters, isn’t it about time that women’s safety, both physical and mental, needs to be prioritised over whatever madcap scheme some commercial health professional has dreamed up in order to make a buck?