Making Babies, Making Money

baby moneyIVF Worldwide is an expansive online community that prides itself on being “the largest and most comprehensive in-vitro fertilization (IVF)-focused website for doctors, embryologists, nurses, and social workers.” While it’s meant to serve as a resource for those within the industry—because make no mistake about it, that’s what it is, an industry—couples considering using IVF would be well served by digging around on their website to better understand their motivations.

Here’s a little clue: it’s profit.

Of particular interest is this blog post by Dr. Itai Levitan, who served as chairman for the 2nd IVF Worldwide Live Congress held last year in Berlin. His enthusiasm following the conference was hardly containable: “I feel like I should give up medicine and focus on marketing!”

Among the tips he offers: “Increase your IVF Clinic’s investment in marketing, and seriously treat the activity as a profit center rather than a cost center.” And “Understand your exact business logic behind your online marketing activity. Start with understanding your fundamental business case.” Have a read through of the full post. You’ll see IVF cycles referred to as “sales” and patients referred to as “clients.”

Just to be clear, allow me to put it bluntly: With IVF, no longer is medicine the healing profession. It is a business enterprise.

While one might be tempted to think this is an isolated incident, I assure you, it is not. The market for eggs and sperm is a lucrative enterprise, estimated to be worth over $3 billion in the United States alone. IVF, sperm donation, and egg donation are, of course, intrinsically linked to surrogacy, and these same business incentives are driving the push for a greater legalization of commercial surrogacy throughout the United States and abroad.

In response to a recent New York Times piece highlighting the rise of international couples coming to the U.S. for surrogacy, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, himself a user of a surrogate to have children, responded with a Letter to the Editor noting that “by prohibiting gestational surrogacy arrangements, New York State is losing out on millions of dollars in economic activity associated with legal surrogacy.”

Couples seeking solutions to their infertility turn to IVF, sperm and egg donation, and surrogacy when they’re completely desperate to satisfy their desire for a child. This desire is almost always pure and natural, which makes the sentiments of folks like Senator Hoylman and Dr. Levitan all the more appalling.

So, the next time you see an advertisement for a fertility clinic promising the miracle of life through the marvels of IVF or surrogacy, just remember that behind such talk of miracles and marvels is a lot of marketing—and a lot of money to be made.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

Christopher White is the Director of Education and Programs for the Center for Bioethics and Culture.