Reproductive tourism should be seen as a 'safety valve'
Dr. Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust27 June 2005
BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Copenhagen: Guido Pennings, professor of ethics and bioethics at the University of Ghent, Belgium, says that we should not condemn 'reproductive tourism' in Europe but regard it as a 'safety valve' that can help to avoid moral conflict. He told the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology that laws should not be harmonised in order to seek to prevent such tourism. Rather than harmonising laws on reproductive medicine across Europe, he said, we should 'accept the existing diversity'.
The term 'reproductive tourism' describes the situation where people travel to other countries for fertility treatments because they may be cheaper or easier to access than in their own country. According to Professor Pennings, thousands of people travel between European countries each year, seeking to take advantage of more liberal fertility laws or cheaper treatment prices. 'The number of movements is increasing because people are more used to traveling and are more informed about policies in other countries and clinics by means of the internet', he said. He added that there may also be an increase because 'some clinics facilitate access by foreign patients by offering packages including visas, hotels and interpreters'.
The main causes of 'reproductive tourism', according to Professor Pennings, are because certain countries forbid a particular type of treatment for moral reasons, or because certain types of patient find themselves ineligible for treatment under limits placed in their own countries, or even that the waiting lists in the home country may be too long. He gave the example of Italy, saying that many patients there were 'voting with their feet' in the wake of a new law that places heavy restrictions on the use and availability of assisted reproduction technologies. 'The main criticism is that the law expresses the belief of only one section of society, i.e. Catholics', he said, adding that 'no attempt was made to take into account other views', and that 'it should surprise no-one that non-Catholic Italians feel frustrated, ignored, angry and unfairly treated'.
Professor Pennings told the conference that there is 'a general move to former East European centres because of the lower financial costs and towards Spain for oocyte donation', where they have more donors because women can be paid for donating their eggs. But he said that this movement was not problematic as it allows a degree of individual freedom for individuals: 'There is no unified European culture and no consensus on substantive human values', he said, adding that the implication would be that 'European decisions would have the same problems as national restrictive laws but on an even higher level. The main reason for leaving these decisions to national states is that reproductive matters should be decided by the people concerned'. For this reason, he thinks that although reproductive tourism is usually presented as a problem, he believes that 'it contributes to a peaceful coexistence of different ethical and religious views in Europe'. He concluded that 'contrary to some existing views, it may increase justice by giving people, who cannot pay for the treatment at home, the ability to look for cheaper treatment elsewhere'.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.