Winning Fertility: Would-Be Parents Win Free IVF

Offering free products or services is "a way of advertising," Goodwin said. "What we basically see is an industry unfolding in a way that we've seen other privatized industries unfold before it."

Though infertility treatment advocates are loathe to call IVF an industry, the dollar amounts spent on it suggest otherwise.

At least 142,000 IVF cycles were performed in the United States alone in 2007 -- the most recent year data is available -- according to the division of reproductive health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Assuming a price of $12,000 for each treatment cycle, that would bring the U.S. IVF industry's domestic revenues to more than $1.7 billion.

Goodwin pegs her estimate of the industry's size to some $5 billion, taking into account the cost of IVF medication, other IVF-related expenses and situations where IVF treatment cycles cost $25,000 or more, such as donor egg IVF treatments.

"The industry is quite significant," she said. "It's blown up in robust ways in the past 10 to 15 years."

Part of that growth, Goodwin said, has come from patients who are willing to cross state lines to obtain treatment -- a trend that has encouraged clinics to promote themselves more heavily, she said.

IVF Giveaways: 'New Low?'

"Clinics are working on a national model," Goodwin said. "They're no longer working on who in (their) community might be interested" in their services.

Such promotion, particularly giveaways, doesn't sit well with some.

"The capacity of the IVF industry to commodify human life reaches a new low with this latest deplorable initiative," Josephine Quintavalle, the director of the London-based public interest group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said in a statement released in reaction to GIVF's London event.

"Imagine a child one day finding out that he or she came into being thanks to such a blatantly commercial initiative?" Quintavalle said. "Who won the raffle?"

GIVF Donor Egg Program Director Jennifer Machovina rejected CORE's criticism.

"What we're doing is not a raffle. It's not something we're using as a trick or anything like that," she said. "It's not commercializing anything -- we're just trying to give somebody an option where there otherwise might not be anything."

Goodwin can list other reasons to be wary of IVF giveaways: winners, she said, might rush to pursue free treatment without adequately researching the procedure, including the chance of multiple births, which is higher in IVF pregnancies than traditional pregnancies.

Goodwin noted that babies who are part of sets of multiples are more likely to suffer health problems, as are mothers carrying multiples.

Dr. James Goldfarb, the cofounder of the Cleveland Clinic's Partnership for Families Program and the president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, said that certain events that offer IVF giveaways, including conferences held by RESOLVE, aren't just promoting IVF services -- they're also educating patients.

Patients might learn how age affects fertility or how female cancer patients can freeze their eggs before chemotherapy causes them ovarian damage.

"It's surprising to me how little people know about some of these things," Goldfarb said.

'We Were the Lucky Winners'

While IVF watchers may debate the ethics of the industry, giveaway winners like Donna Carr and New York resident Alicia are unequivocal in their support of the practice.

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