08 May 2012

Fertility treatments in Europe

Edited at the bottom of this section.

About a month ago, Mel shared an article in Promt-ly about Fertility treatment bans in Europe and how these bans are drawing criticism.The article states the bans and restrictions on who can receive fertility treatments in different countries in Europe and how they are old and outdated.
Here's a quick breakdown of the countries mentioned and what they ban or allow:
- France & Italy ban single women and lesbians from artificial insemination & IVF
- Sweden, Germany & Italy ban artificial insemination (Denmark, Spain & Belgium allow it)
- Austria & Italy ban all egg & sperm donations for IVF (Many couples travel to the Czech and Slovak republics and Spain instead if this is needed)
- Germany & Norway ban donating eggs, but not sperm.
- Sweden (and other countries not mentioned) require couples to have a stable relationship for at least a year to qualify for fertility treatment
- Switzerland (and other countries not mentioned) requires couples to be married.
- Ukraine is the main exception in Europe where couples are allowed to use surrogates, most other countries ban it
- France, Italy, Switzerland (and other countries not mentioned) only allow one partner to be the child's legal father or mother in gay and lesbian couples

That's quite a few countries telling women and couples what they can't do with their own bodies.

One country that wasn't mentioned in this article and one that I am more familiar with, is Finland. And I know that Finland allows many of the above issues. The article seemed quite selective in which countries it used for its basis on the bans. It makes me wonder which other European countries are more in line with Finland on what they allow.

At the time that Mel shared this prompt with us, there were ads (picture above) in the city buses for one of the local private fertility clinics. The ad states that nearly 1 in 6 couples hope for a baby - in vain. And then they go on to say that you, the person reading this (male or female), could help your fellow people by giving the greatest gift of all, life! And then they tell the basic requirements you would  need to fulfil to donate and that the person will be compensated accordingly.

A few weeks later, I saw the below picture, for the same clinic, in our local newspaper. This ad was for the other end of the spectrum: those who want kids but are having trouble conceiving. The big frilly text says: What if the stork gets lost?. The clinic will be having open doors for people to come and hear about what the clinic does and for people to be able ask questions. There will also be a light brunch offered. In addition, the clinic states that usually a solution to childlessness is found, you just need to find the right procedure/method. And finally, sometimes the stork just needs a bit of directions on where to go, that's where the clinic will help.

I've not used a private clinic (as I was lucky to go the public route, more on that below), but looking at the clinic's ads and website, I can tell you for sure that donor eggs and sperm are allowed for use. I can also tell you that their website talks about single women and women couples who would like to pursue treatments. And as single and women couples are able to pursue treatments, I don't believe there is a set period of time how long a couple must try before they can be treated. (How would the be able to try? Unlike heterosexual couples...) Freezing embryos are also allowed (I have one little one on ice right now). The one thing that Finland does not allow (except in rare cases,) is surrogacy. I'm not 100% sure of the reason, but from what I under it has to do with legal issues.

Edit: Many of the countries that have such strict rules and bans against the different aspects of fertility treatments are the more religious oriented countries.
This section is about my own experience, rather than the bans and allowances of fertility treatments in Finland. Not quite on the same topic, but at least in the same vein.

My experiences (so far) with fertility clinics are a 1 time introductory visit to the above mentioned private clinic, for free. I checked this place out while I was waiting for my endo surgery, just over 2 years ago. As a result of my endo diagnosis (I think), I was referred to the local hospital's (public) Reproductive Endocrinology (RE) department, where we were able to get an appointment a month and a half later. (I've heard the waiting time can sometimes take 6 months or more just to get in there.)

The public system can (and at times does) take longer to get appointments. The public RE's are not open on holidays, weekends and take a full month summer holiday/break in July. On the other hand, everyone I met at the clinic was very nice, professional and willing to speak to me in English if/when I needed it. The prices are also much much cheaper! Each doctor visit was approximately 28€. And after I paid/spent 660€ in medications (per year), my prescription medicines would be 1,50€ each (with a letter from the Finnish social system). This deduction in medications would happen to anyone, regardless of where you are being treated.

I know there are some restrictions that apply to the public RE system in Finland, as opposed to the private sector, but I'm not sure what they all are. I do know for example that a couple needs to have seriously tried for at least a year and have a referral to get into the public clinic. I'm not sure if the couple needs to be married or not (many Finns don't get married), as Mr Siili and I are married, the subject never came up. In the public RE system, they will generally only do 3-4 IUIs and 3 fresh cycles of IVF (plus any FETs you have). I also know that you have to work around the holidays and weekends, which has caused a canceled cycle or two for me. As with other public health sectors here in Finland, you don't always have one doctor specifically assigned to you; you get who is in that day.

While I know Finland is quite different than other countries, I've not had any bad experiences with the public RE system nor any of the staff there. (There was one doctor I didn't like as much as the others, but she was still nice and very knowledgeable.) I feel very fortunate that it all worked out for me and Mr Siili as in Nov/Dec of last year were were on our 3rd and final fresh IVF cycle which produced this pregnancy (with one frozen one to spare). We can't wait to bring home our little Paxlet later this summer.