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'Increasing concern' over questionable fertility treatment

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The UK's fertility watchdog and several leading experts are becoming “increasingly concerned” over private clinics that are offering questionable and "widely discredited" treatments.

In a series of enlightening interviews published by The Independent, experts claim clinics are handing out "expensive, potentially harmful stuff like Smarties", giving "false hope", and selling expensive add-ons despite little evidence that some of them work.

Lacks scientific rationale

A Cambridge University immunologist has stated the use of immune-suppressant drugs in treatments lacks scientific rationale and violates the profession's golden rule: 'do no harm'.

In a paper published in the journal Human Reproduction last year, Professor Ashley Moffett and a colleague at Cambridge University wrote: "Despite the lack of scientific rationale and advice from clinical governing bodies, such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, an increasing range of tests and therapies are still offered to women undergoing IVF or attending recurrent miscarriage clinics based on the myth that uterine NK cells need suppressing to prevent damage to the embryo."

In an interview for The Independent, hinting at the exploitative nature of some private clinics, she added: "I think these women are quite obviously, one understands, desperate, and they will try anything."

Fertility watchdog the Human Fertilisation & Embryologist Authority (HFEA) says: "The theory behind reproductive immunology has been widely discredited, and there is no evidence that immune-suppressive therapies improve your chance of getting pregnant."

'Subjected to harm'

A number of other experts have questioned additional techniques widely available in private clinics such as pre-implantation genetic screening, intrauterine insemination for women with unexplained infertility, the use of time-lapse photography, and the freezing of embryos.

Professor Martin Johnson, Emeritus Professor of Reproductive Sciences at Cambridge University said there was "a lack of scientific rigour" behind some fertility treatments.

He also said: "What it means is the treatment could be making their situation worse and certainly not improving it - and is costing them money. It's all about anecdotal evidence or no objective evidence."

Yacoub Khalaf, director of the Assisted Conception Unit at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, believes that most of those working in private fertility clinics are "very decent and honest people".

However, he has called for the industry to undergo more "rigorous checks", after saying: "At best, patients are subject to exploitation; at worst, patients are being subjected to harm."

Despite regular claims for and declarations of scientific breakthroughs and new techniques, advancements have only been moderate. Between 2003 and 2013, the average birth rate from IVF rose from about 20% per cycle of treatment, to 26.5%.

And one expert has revealed half of the people undergoing treatment do not actually need any help to have a baby.

'Increasing concern'

Responding to the concerns raised by experts, the HFEA's Chair Sally Cheshire said the majority of clinics provide excellent care and would work with scientists and the industry to "provide accurate and easy-to-understand information about these new treatments".

However, expressing concern she added: "We are becoming increasingly concerned about IVF treatment 'add-ons' without a strong evidence base being offered at some clinics.

"We know from talking to patients that they can find navigating the IVF process difficult and the offer of 'add-ons' can increase their confusion, and the cost of their treatment. 

"Patients are often not sure whether they need the additional treatments but worry that they could regret not making every attempt they can to get pregnant."

Guidance for Christian couples considering IVF

About one in seven couples have difficulty conceiving - and Christians are not immune. Christian Medical Fellowship have published a booklet, for just £3, which seeks to present the biblical ethics related to IVF clearly and compassionately, helping partners to have conversations as they walk the painful road of infertility. 

Related Links: 
Guidance for Christian couples considering IVF (Christian Medical Fellowship) 
Private fertility clinics offer treatments that are 'widely discredited', 'hotly debated' and 'sound like a good idea' (Independent)
Fertility watchdog ‘increasingly concerned’ about dubious treatments sold by private clinics as experts warn childless couples are being exploited (Independent)
IVF clinics must not be allowed to exploit childless families for profit (Independent)


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