Reproductive tourism

Reproductive tourism? IVF abroad

Modern IVF techniques and open borders mean fertility tourism is booming © Jupiter  - Reproductive tourism? IVF abroad
Modern IVF techniques and open borders mean fertility tourism is booming © Jupiter
These days, many couples who desperately want to have children but are finding it seemingly impossible to conceive on their own are turning their hopes to modern medicine: IVF, egg cell or sperm donation, or some combination. In some situations, they feel they have to go abroad, because options that may be forbidden at home are allowed elsewhere.

Mania Koslova is the last hope of many women and couples. She has already brought happiness to many and given them the most beautiful gift of their lives.

But Mania does not know who these women are, what they look like or where they live. She only knows this number: 1,300. This is the amount in Euros that the 28-year-old receives for each egg she has harvested at the IVF clinic in the Czech town of Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary).

In preparation for the procedure, Mania must inject herself with hormones for two weeks so that as many eggs as possible can be harvested at the same time. A trained office clerk, Mania says she has had the risks explained to her, and they do not seem particularly high.

On the day her eggs are to be harvested, she enters the hospital through the separate entrance for donors. The procedure is done under general anesthetic. Two hours later, she is on her way back to work.

Clinics like the institute in Carlsbad are the last hope for many couples. © Jupiter
Clinics like the institute in Carlsbad are the last hope for many couples. © Jupiter
IVF abroad: going across the border to become pregnant

The institute in Carlsbad has become one of several destinations that represent the last hope for many childless couples – many from abroad – still hoping to conceive. When the possibilities for IVF in their own country have been exhausted, there is always the option of a trip across the border to another EU country such as Spain, the UK, the Czech Republic or Belgium where the laws are different.

Germany and Italy, for instance, allow the purchase of donor sperm, but only to fertilize a woman’s own eggs. In neighboring countries things are different. Some allow egg donation for women whose own eggs aren’t viable, as well as further IVF-related procedures such as the freezing of egg cells, sperm, fertilized egg cells or even embryos.

It is also generally possible to obtain medical care in elsewhere in the EU, outside your home country. It is usually only a matter of cost, since health insurance companies often only cover treatment within their own country or only certain procedures abroad. But for many women, the cost of going abroad to have these options is worth it: if it gives them the chance to fulfill their long-held desire to finally become pregnant.

It is therefore hardly surprising that the demand for IVF abroad – or so-called “reproductive tourism” – is booming.

According to a study by the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), somewhere between 20 to 25,000 couples have traveled to a neighboring EU country in the hope of starting a pregnancy, two thirds of them from Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and France.

And with the extension of the EU towards the east, and the increasing number of alluring Internet offers advertising things like "fast and efficient IVF"... "success guaranteed", the numbers seem to be on the rise.

Happy about the pregnancy © Jupiter
Happy about the pregnancy © Jupiter
The desire for a child justifies the means

Such was the case for Gabriella and her husband Alessandro. Through a pane of glass, Alessandro watches helplessly as his wife lies still on a bed moving into a stainless steel tube. "To us this is something of a last chance," he explains. "Gabriella is going to turn 44 soon."

Five weeks ago, the couple had traveled from their hometown in Italy to the Spanish Mediterranean coast for the first time. Heer, on the edge of Alicante, is the "Instituto Valenciano de Infertilidad“ (IVI), a private IVF clinic with a high success rate.

Today, Gabriella is having an embryo implanted which was developed using a donor egg and her husband's sperm. Just a few days earlier and two rooms down the hall, the egg had been harvested from an anonymous donor.

It was kept at body temperature in a special container so that the biologists in the next room could perform the in-vitro fertilization. Gabriella is now lying in a third room. This is the third time that she is undergoing this procedure.

Two years ago, at home in Italy, her doctor had told her, “no chance, there is no way you can become pregnant anymore,” and pointed her in the direction of adoption.

“But I just know that I am meant to bear a child,” Gabriella says. “I'm sure it will work."

For Sandra and Emanuel L. from Berlin, it has already worked. Sandra is five months pregnant and proudly showing off her growing baby bump.

The car journey to Carlsbad only took them three hours. There, Sandra had a fertilized egg cell implanted. For just under 11,000 euros, Emanuel's sperm had been frozen and inserted into a donated egg cell. It might have been one from Mania, but neither of them will ever know.

According to Czech law, IVF donors must remain anonymous. Meaning that children conceived using egg and sperm donors will never know the identity of their biological parents.

And meaning that Mania's own daughter Suzanna will likely have siblings all over the world, but never know anything about them.



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