Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sperm shortage in Britain

Recall the previous post about one sperm donor for the entire country of Scotland. The shortage of sperm for IVF treatment in Britain is becoming acute, with some groups calling it a "national crisis". The abolition of anonymity for donors and allowing of children to contact their donor fathers has all but eliminated the donation of sperm. Some in the government have called the abolition of anonymity "stupid" and in need of a rethink. But the spokesman for the Department of Health says the government does not intend to change the law.

Some fertility clinics are closing while others are importing frozen sperm from the U.S. and Denmark. And some couples are going abroad for fertility treatment, which is a viable option since there are numerous world class fertility centers in other countries. Still others are buying frozen sperm online. A website called Man Not Included reports a three-fold increase in donor sperm purchases. They were established to provide donor sperm to lesbian and single women who were denied IVF treatment. Now married couples are turning to them due to the shortage of donor sperm at IVF clinics.

One question that comes to mind is how the law abolishing donor anonymity treats imported donor sperm. Do they not require that the importers certify who the donor is? If not, that is an interesting loophole that may eventually be plugged if the government remains firm on its position on donor anonymity.


Wearing glasses increases fertility?

A press release claims that a "study" (no reference or source given for said study) has shown that seasonal changes in hours of daylight trigger melatonin release in the body, and that in turn makes women more fertile during the months in which conception would lead to birth in the spring, a more favorable time for newborns to enter the world. The advent of electric lighting has upset the natural ebb and flow of melatonin and hence fertility. With artificial lights on long after the sun sets, fertility is supressed since this would simulate the longer days of spring and summer; pregnancy at that time would lead to birth in the cold winter months.

The so-called study says that it is light in the blue spectrum that supresses the melatonin release. So an enterprising scientist has developed a set of glasses that filter the blue spectrum. Women can wear the classes for gradually increasing periods of time to fool the body into thinking that a seasonal change is occuring and the time for conception is optimal. There are other products as well, including light bulbs and filters for TV screens that block the blue light.

This is the first I have heard of this theory about melatonin and fertility. If this is true it seems that taking melatonin supplements would also be quite effective in boosting fertility. Many people currently take melatonin to regulate their sleeping patterns, especially when traveling across time zones. The hormone is readily available and inexpensive.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Custody battle over frozen embyos

There has been a steady stream of news and court decisions coming out of the UK this year regarding all aspects of IVF, including government funding of treatment, warnings about IVF abroad, even liability of sperm donors for eventual offspring. Now from Dublin, Ireland there is the story of a court decision regarding custody of frozen embryos.

An Irish couple has been battling in the courts over what to do with embryos frozen during their IVF treatment several years ago. The husband does not want additional children and wishes the embryos to be donated for medical research. The woman feels the embryos are her yet-to-be-born children and should be implanted in her so she can give birth to them. The court ruled that there was no consent given by the man for future IVF treatments using the frozen embryos, so the woman cannot have them implanted.

There are several issues raised by this proceeding, including the fact that in Ireland there is a constitutional prohibition against abortion at any stage, which begs the question what about the disposal of unused embryos from IVF treatment. The constitutional amendment doesn't make it clear that these embryos are covered. The judge in the case said the case would now move into the issue of legal protection for frozen embryos as persons. The outcome of the next phase of this case could set a precedent for legal treatment of the disposal of embryos from IVF as abortion, a precedent that may be noted and followed in other countries.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

62 year old IVF mother

This story has received a lot of news coverage already. But in case you missed it, Dr. Patricia Rashbrook, age 62, just became the oldest woman in Britain to give birth. She received IVF treatment in Italy after being refused treatment in her home country. Dr. Severino Antinori of Rome performed the IVF procedure. He arranged for Rashbrook to receive donor eggs in Moscow. Dr. Antinori says he only considers couples with at least 20 remaining years of life expectancy.

20 years of remaining life expectancy might be a little optimistic for this couple (husband is 61), especially considering that the average life expectancy in the UK is currently 78.54. But who knows, with future advancements in medicine maybe 82+ is a reasonable forward looking estimate for the parents.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

New book nurtures women through IVF

A new book written by author Lynn Daley provides women undergoing IVF with guidance to help them through what can often be very stressful times. Ms. Daley says she has been through multiple cycles of IVF herself, and interviewed over 100 women undergoing IVF to gather background for the book. The book aims to help women keep everything in balance, including their emotional health, rather than just focusing on "getting through the cycle".

Title of the book is Nurturing Yourself Through IVF.

Friday, July 07, 2006

$3 office visit

This post is off topic in that it isn't about IVF. It is about my recent trip to the dentist in Bangkok. I had a tooth ache so I went to the dental center at Bumrungrad International Hospital (they have a fertility center, so perhaps this is vaguely on topic). Bumrungrad is perhaps the most famous of the big private hospitals in Bangkok that are all known for outstanding medical care at amazingly low prices. I had been to Bumrungrad's dental center before to repair a broken filling. That was a great experience, quickly and expertly handled, for the handsome fee of $35 U.S.

This time I suspected something more involved than a quick repair of a filling. Sure enough, the tooth under one of my crowns had gone bad and I needed a root canal. I didn't have an appointment but they have several dentists on staff and normally there is one assigned to handle walk-in emergencies, which was me. One person ahead of me so I took a seat. 20 minutes later I'm in the dentist chair, then over to x-ray. Five minutes later doctor confirms from the x-ray that the roots have gone bad and gum is inflamed. The good news is no cavity around the base of the crown so no need to replace it, just drill through, do the root canal and patch it up. 40 minutes later the procedure is done.

Now the price:
Doctor's fee: 4,200 Thai baht ($110 U.S.)
Materials: 3,800 Thai baht ($100 U.S.)
Office visit: 110 Thai baht ($3 U.S.)

That's the full price. It includes the follow-up visits to do another round of cleaning and packing with medication, and then another for the permanent filling after the doctor is satisfied everything is completely healed.

Amazing, $3 for the office visit! And these facilities are far superior to any dental office I ever visited in America. That plus the added bonus of wonderful hospitality.

And when I went back for the second round there wasn't even a charge for the office visit that time. I guess the original $3 fee covered it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


This is the first I have seen such an argument for state funding for IVF. The UK's National Health Services (NHS) has been debating the necessity for, and amount of, state funding for IVF. At a conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology held in Prague, Professor Bill Ledger, of the University of Sheffield gives an argument for considering the return on investment (ROI) for the state. The argument goes that NHS will spend 13,000 pounds on average for every live birth through IVF. But over its lifetime that IVF baby will contribute a net 147,138 pounds in taxes, and will have paid for itself by age 31. And that does not take into consideration wealth created in the private sector. An additional consideration for the UK is the aging of the population and need for more young people to enter the economy.

I found this concept of IVF ROI interesting and sort of amusing. For the people who want a baby this is the farthest thing from their minds. Indeed, they have enormous expenses to look forward to in raising the child if IVF is successful for them. But from the point of view of the state every birth is a good birth, as long as it means a contribution to the tax base. In some places that might not be the case if the prospects for employment aren't so good.