IVF Lottery – is it for you?

Fertility coach, Lisa Marsh, looks at the ethics of the IVF lottery and what it could mean for couples struggling to access IVF treatment.

IVF Lottery Win £25,000 Private Treatment

What the £20 IVF lottery ticket could mean for you. Photograph: Emery Co Photo

The IVF Lottery describes the uneven delivery of fertility treatment across the UK, by postcode. But now, an actual IVF Lottery could give a dozen lucky people the chance to become parents each year.

Why launch an IVF lottery?

The UK fertility-advice charity, To Hatch, has been licensed by the Gambling Commission to launch the online IVF game on the 30th of July, with the £25,000 prize of fertility treatment to be awarded each month.

Camille Strachan drew on her own experience of infertility in creating To Hatch, which delivers fertility news, information and advice to its members. Now she‘s determined to help desperate people who can’t access quality fertility treatment in the UK, either through the NHS or with private funds.

Win a baby

Labeled the “win a baby lottery” in the media, it drew  harsh comments by spokesmen from public interest groups and regulators, including the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the British Fertility Society.

The prize is actually private medical treatment at one of the UK’s top fertility clinics, with a few attractive extras, including accommodation in a luxury hotel, chauffeur-driven transportation to the fertility clinic and a mobile phone for constant contact with doctors.  Profits from sales of the lottery tickets will go back to the charity.

Is this ethical?

The ethical argument against the IVF Lottery centre on two points:

  1. the alliance of human reproduction with gaming; and
  2. that winners could access donor sperm, donor eggs or surrogacy for the price of the £20 ticket.

The HFEA called it “wrong and entirely inappropriate” to “trivialise what is for many people a central part of their lives.” I suggest that this Lottery is aimed at a special-interest group, to whom creating a family is indeed a central part of their lives, but who are more than aware of the serious implications for their life purpose and happiness if they don’t achieve that dream. Are they desperate and vulnerable? Undoubtedly. Do they deserve an extra chance to make their dreams come true? I think so.

The second point suggests that the IVF Lottery promotes some sort of human trafficking, as if a woman is plucked off the street and offered £20 for the use of her eggs or womb. In actuality, all participants would still be subject to the regulations and medical ethics in force in the UK, including those on compensation.  Whether that compensation comes directly from the recipient of the donated gamete, or from Lottery funds, really shouldn’t matter to the donor.

What this means for you

Denied fertility treatment on NHS
If you have failed to access NHS fertility treatment and can’t afford private fertility treatment in the UK, the IVF Lottery presents a unique opportunity to win £25,000 in treatment and associated perks.At today’s rates, this could allow up to 4 IVF procedures; or less if you require third party participation in your assisted reproduction, such as a donor.  At less than .01% of the prize value, the ticket price of £20 is relatively small.

Alternative to going abroad
While the HFEA and other watchdogs showed distaste for the gimmicky nature of the IVF Lottery, it is also seriously unhappy about fertility tourism; Britons travelling to less regulated, less expensive countries for fertility treatment.That being said, the regulatory authority’s efforts to persuade PCTs to offer more fertility treatment and private clinics to keep their fees and the costs of fertility drugs down have not carried enough weight thus far.

Your personal ethics
It’s up to each individual to balance their personal ethics and strength of purpose against what other people and institutions may think of their participation in the IVF Lottery.
The IVF Lottery is not only available to heterosexual couples, but will also be open to single, gay and older people, who are the people least likely to benefit from NHS treatment.

Lisa’s view on the IVF lottery

While I don’t doubt Strachan’s sincerity in trying to help people who want to have a child, the controversy over the IVF Lottery is useful in itself.  If the IVF Lottery goes ahead as planned, it will undoubtedly continue to provoke increased public awareness and opinion of infertility and focus more attention on the inequitable delivery of fertility treatment in the UK.

I foresee IVF Lottery tickets appearing on wedding gift registries and in Christmas card envelopes.  I’m looking forward to the human interest stories that are sure to come to light; the players who will be satisfied that they tried everything they could, the winners who would otherwise not have been able to access treatment and the luckiest of all, those who will ultimately have a baby.


Emery Co Photo @ Flickr

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