IVF Clinics Are Corrupt And Greedy, Says Winston
Britain’s leading fertility expert condemned the IVF industry yesterday, saying that it had been corrupted by money and that doctors were exploiting women who were desperate to get pregnant.
Speaking at the Guardian Hay festival, Robert Winston also accused the fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, of failing to protect women and giving consistently poor information to couples.
“One of the major problems facing us in healthcare is that IVF has become a massive commercial industry,” he said. “It’s very easy to exploit people by the fact that they’re desperate and you’ve got the technology which they want, which may not work.”
Lord Winston, professor of fertility studies at Imperial College London, was particularly critical of doctors in the capital: “Amazing sums of money are being made through IVF. It is really rather depressing to consider that some IVF treatments in London are charged at 10 times the fee that is charged in Melbourne, where there is excellent medicine, where IVF is just as successful, where they have comparable salaries.
“So one has to ask oneself what has happened. What has happened, of course, is that money is corrupting this whole technology.”
There are 85 licensed fertility clinics in the UK, in an industry worth up to £500m a year. According to latest figures from the HFEA, in 2004 more than 30,000 patients underwent more than 40,000 treatment cycles, each costing up to £8,000.
Lord Winston expressed particular concern over some of the tests being offered to infertile couples.
One screening technique which uses fluorescent markers to stain defective parts of an embryo’s chromosomes, and costs several thousands of pounds, is routinely used to weed out unviable embryos. But even the most advanced version of the test can only interrogate a tiny portion of an embryo’s genome. “That’s being sold to patients at £2,000 a time and they’re saying, your chromosomes are fine, that embryo should be transferred, when actually it’s a lie,” Lord Winston said. “There’s no knowledge about the genome from that.”
He added that there was no clinical justification in doing the screening “and yet hundreds of women are being exploited out of their desperation to get pregnant from people who are taking large sums of money from them in private clinics.
“Much of it is in ignorance because most of the people who are doing this work are doing a form of cookery without understanding the science behind it. It’s knowingly done, insofar as the clinicians and scientists doing it don’t actually want to explore the implications, because they’re not engaging with the public, they’re not accountable, they’re being arrogant and making a lot of money.”
Lord Winston also went on to criticise the HFEA for failing to protect women: “The regulatory authority has done a consistently bad job. It’s not prevented the exploitation of women, it’s not put out very good information to couples, it’s not limited the number of unscientific treatments people have access to, it doesn’t prevent sex selection and all sorts of other things people don’t like because there are all sorts of ways around the law.”
A HFEA spokesman said: “No procedure throughout medicine goes into mass use without some sort of leap of faith. Patients just need to be informed that something is on a preliminary stage and if you want to go down that route then do so, but you’re fully informed before you do so.
“All hospitals and clinics that offer IVF treatment in the UK are regulated by the HFEA. We do have strict guidelines they follow, including a code of practice that clearly states that sex selection for social reasons is not allowed.
“As far as we are aware, all IVF clinics abide by those regulations. Any patient that wishes to receive IVF has the information available to them.”