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Fertility treatment bans in Europe draw criticism
Question of the Day
In that case, two married couples sued the Austrian government, arguing the ban violated their right to a “private and family life” under the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ultimately ruled the restriction was justified and cited problems like “splitting motherhood” between a biological mother and the woman carrying the fetus.
“I’m often dumbfounded by the position some European countries take on IVF,” said Dr. Norbert Gleicher, medical director of the Center for Human Reproduction, a private clinic in New York City.
The restrictions in many European countries would be unthinkable in the U.S., Gleicher said, adding about 40 percent of his patients travel from abroad, many from Europe.
In Sweden, lawmakers are considering whether to change the law so that all single women have access to fertility treatment.
Eriksson said the restrictions no longer match reality. “There are so many different kinds of families today that it is not sustainable to maintain laws and regulations based on traditional family ideals,” she said.
For IVF, women must undergo hormone stimulation to produce eggs and a procedure to extract them from the ovaries. Embryos are created by mixing sperm and eggs together in a lab, then transferred into a woman’s womb.
Fertility treatment remains a taboo subject in many countries.
Germany’s history of eugenics — where Nazi doctors forcibly sterilized or euthanized people in an attempt to eliminate hereditary illnesses and handicapped people — makes officials nervous about any procedures that handle embryos. It was only last year that Germany approved an embryo test commonly used elsewhere to spot genetic problems. The test, generally used only in IVF pregnancies, is still banned in Austria and Italy.
In other countries, religion carries more weight. France and Italy both have strong historic ties to the Roman Catholic Church, which forbids IVF, primarily because the procedure may involve the destruction of embryos. The church is also against artificial insemination because it believes procreation should only be by a husband and wife through the natural act of sex.
Until 2004, Italy’s fertility laws were fairly lax, leading to pregnancies in women as old as 60, and a proliferation of woman “renting” their wombs. A law supported by leading Catholic groups that year clamped down on egg and sperm donation, limited the number of embryos transferred, and outlawed the practice of freezing embryos. The law restricts IVF to “stable, heterosexual couples who live together and are of childbearing age.”
Italy says allowing donated eggs could exploit women and that the practice “would lead to a weakening of the entire structure of society.”
Most couples seeking fertility treatments don’t need donated eggs and sperm. And many government health systems will pay for fertility treatments for those who have been trying at least three years to conceive.
People in Western Europe who seek medical treatment elsewhere cannot be prosecuted at home even if the treatment is illegal in their own country. But there can be other complications. For example, in France, children born through surrogacy are not entitled to a French passport.
Still, authorities are struggling with how to deal with the complexity of IVF families. Last month, France’s Court of Appeal upheld a decision to grant civil status — similar to nationality — to twins carried by a surrogate mother in India for a French couple. But in 2011, the French Supreme Court denied civil status to twins born to a surrogate mother in the U.S.
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