Legal and ethical issues and fertility treatment abroad

Fertility treatment can be a minefield of legal and ethical issues. These vary from country to country, but also by religious beliefs within those countries. Each one of us also has our own personal opinions, which complicate things even more.

Even if you are using your own sperm and eggs, the creation of life outside of the normal processes is a momentous act that generates strong feelings. Add in donated gametes, or even a surrogate mother, and the situation becomes much more complex, both emotionally and legally.

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How is fertility treatment regulated legally?

This varies widely between countries, with some having a formal legal framework, and others relying on official guidelines. The International Federation of Fertility Societies Surveillance 2010 report explains in detail the different legislation in over 100 countries.

The countries with laws and statutes covering the legal issues of fertility treatment include:

  • Canada
  • France
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • UK

Countries where legal issues around fertility treatment are left to official guidelines include:

  • Australia
  • Cyprus
  • India
  • Mexico
  • Poland
  • USA

What kind of legal and ethical issues are regulated?

Many different aspects of the processes used in fertility treatment are regulated, and you will find that something that is permissible in one country may be banned outright in another. Once you have decided on which fertility treatment you need, a good first step is to check which countries allow the process you require, and which of these have the most liberal legislation to provide you with the best chance of success.

Legislation comes into play at almost every stage, from whether you will be allowed fertility treatment in the first place, to how long frozen embryos may be stored following a successful treatment. For example, many countries, such as Turkey, China and Indonesia, will only permit IVF treatment  for married couples, and New Zealand insists on a stable nuclear family to raise the child. By contrast, more liberal countries, such as Spain, Sweden and the USA, will allow IVF for single people and homosexual couples.

Other legal and ethical issues that are regulated include:

  • The use of donor sperm and eggs: for example, anonymity is guaranteed in law for donors in Greece, but no longer allowed in the UK.
  • The use and payment of surrogates: for example, commercial surrogacy is banned in many countries but is completely legal in India.
  • The in vitro development period allowed for embryos: for example, in many countries, embryos are allowed to develop for several days to allow selection of the healthiest candidates but in others only early embryos can be implanted.
  • The selection process for embryos, including sex selection and genetic screening: for example, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is banned in some countries but allowed under strict regulations in others.
  • The maximum number of embryos that can be transferred: for example, many countries have strict single embryo transfer policies, while others will leave the number of embryos implanted up to the discretion of the fertility specialist.
  • The maximum storage time for frozen embryos: for example, Spain and Canada allow unlimited storage, whereas Brazil has a limit of just three years.
  • The use of frozen sperm or embryos after the death of a partner: for example, in Iceland, frozen sperm must be destroyed when the male partner dies, but in Belgium and The Netherlands, it can be retained with written permission for future use in fertility treatment.

These legal and ethical issues are highly complex and vary widely, so you are always advised to seek expert legal advice before proceeding with infertility treatment overseas. It may seem like an additional cost on top of an already expensive procedure, but failing to find out the full facts leaves you exposed to all manner of complications later, so it is best to be prepared.

Ethical issues and fertility treatment abroad

Ethical issues can be even more complicated than legal ones, and it is often up to you as an individual to decide what you are comfortable with. For many people, the act of conception is holy and sacrosanct, and should not be interfered with in any way. For others, having a baby is the most important thing, and the methods involved do not worry them. There is a whole spectrum of views and opinions that lies in between these two, and you need to consider your own standpoint before you start to look for fertility treatment abroad.

Many of the ethical issues in fertility treatment concern your views regarding when life begins. The Catholic Church, for example, believes that life begins at the moment of conception, and only permits the fertilisation of eggs that will be used, insisting on the implantation of all viable embryos. Others believe that life does not really start for some weeks, and they are happy with the idea of fertilising many eggs, selecting the strongest and healthiest embryos, and discarding the rest.

The important thing to remember is that there are no right or wrong answers in these areas. Your beliefs are your own, and there may be some method of fertility treatment that you can choose that will help you conceive without compromising your ethical or religious standards.


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