Sputnik: Could you tell us more about the boom in egg freezing and the issue of trust amongst some of the websites and clinics that offer these services to women?
Zeynep Gurtin: Egg freezing is a relatively new technology and at the moment in the UK, it is the fastest growing reproductive technology, and we know that it's been growing year on year, especially since around 2014/15. But what we have seen are some reports from clinics just over the last year, which suggests that the increase has been even more due to the pandemic and the kind of social restrictions that have come with the pandemic, which obviously is making some women think twice about when they might be able to find a partner, or be in a situation to have children. So, that's sort of the way we can look at the increase in egg freezing. In terms of the issue that we investigated as part of our research, what we wanted to look at was how do fertility clinic websites talk about egg freezing - how do they advertise it? Unfortunately, our findings suggested that they weren't always particularly balanced, or transparent, or reliable in the information they provided about egg freezing to potential patients.
Sputnik: What potential risks may arise if websites and clinics do not seek to become more accountable and honest with their patients?
Zeynep Gurtin: So, the main problem is of course that if women don't have full and adequate information, then it's very difficult for them to make decisions with all of the information at hand. So, for example, we found that the websites don't talk about the potential risks of egg freezing, and yet really tend to sometimes exaggerate the potential benefits or the potential success rates. So, then what we have is an unbalanced view, which might make women more likely to think the technology is going to work for them, for example.
A second issue, which was perhaps even more troubling, is that the clinics weren't always transparent about the actual cost of how much it would be to go through one cycle of egg freezing, and on average, we found that the real cost when you have to put in all the different aspects that a woman would have to pay for, was about a third – almost £1,000 higher than the cost that was advertised on the website. So, there we're already talking about a technology that's expensive, and if people are going to it with a particular budget, to then suddenly find that you have to pay a third more, is quite a serious additional burden.
Sputnik: Do these clinics fall more on the side of profit or the patient, and should that be a concern?
Zeynep Gurtin: Egg freezing, unusually, is the only reproductive treatment in the UK, which takes place solely in the private sector. So, the caveat is we do have egg freezing for medical reasons for women, going through a cancer or something like that within the NHS, but women who want to freeze their eggs because they're concerned about age-related fertility decline, or because they're not yet with the right partner or anything like that, they always pay out of pocket and they're in the private sector. So of course, these clinics are for-profit businesses, but that needn't necessarily mean that they can't also be very diligent about patient welfare, and certainly that's what we wanted to push. Yes, we understand that these private clinics have to make a profit and they are businesses, but that mustn't come at the cost of patients being able to make informed choices, or really understanding the full details of the technology.
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