'Fertility ships' on the horizon
Dr. Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust06 October 2005
A Danish company is planning to use clinics on ships anchored off-shore to provide prohibited fertility treatments to the inhabitants of countries in which they are banned. This includes the provision of anonymous sperm for people seeking sperm donors in the UK.
If anchored in international waters, ships are governed by the laws of the country whose flag they fly. Ole Schou, from the Denmark-based international sperm banking agency Cryos, believes that there would be a large market for such 'fertility ships'. Cryos already exports anonymously-provided Danish sperm to a number of countries world-wide. As the ships would be governed by the laws of their own country, people coming from countries with more restrictive rules would be able to 'sidestep' their national laws, he said, without having to travel to another country to do so. In Denmark, for example, it is illegal to provide fertility treatment to single women or lesbians, but it is not in a number of other European countries. Italy's restrictive fertility laws would also make its citizens a prime target for a floating fertility clinic.
Mr Schou, who advises business planners considering the cost of starting such an enterprise, said that he envisaged the ships would be fully equipped with operating theatres and clinics, staffed by doctors and nurses from the country they were anchored near. 'It is important that we find a solution for people', he said, because 'these very restrictive regulations leave patients in a bad situation, unable to find help for their needs'. 'If you have different regulations on treatments then you will have trading across borders', he added.
In the UK, anonymity for gamete donors was removed earlier this year, resulting in long waiting times for patients seeking donated gametes, due to donor shortages. Clare Brown, Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK, which has since received more calls from people interested in going abroad for treatment, said 'I can see why couples would consider it but they need to be very careful'. She also pointed out that many couples might not want their donor to be known. But, she said, couples should make sure that any service they opted for was both safe and legal.
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates the provision of fertility treatment in the country, said that a ship providing fertility services would fall outside of its authority. This would mean it would not be inspected in the same way that national clinics are, said a spokesman. 'Our job as the UK regulator is to provide guarantees for people in terms of the safety and the appropriateness of the treatment they are receiving', he said. 'We are not saying people should not make this choice, but you can't be sure what you are getting', he added.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.