The move follows research showing that identity fraud is being used increasingly to gain access to IVF by people who would otherwise be denied it.
According to Dr Luca Sabatini, from the Centre for Reproductive Medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, one in three clinics in the United Kingdom probably has experienced attempts to gain treatment fraudulently.
He told the conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Prague, Czech Republic, that a survey of 70 licensed fertility units, including both publicly funded and private clinics, showed that 37% had experienced or suspected cases of patient identity fraud. Overall, more than half felt that they did not have sufficient safeguards.
Identity fraud among patients has important medico-legal ramifications, Dr Sabatini explained: Our overwhelming feeling is that there are insufficient measures to protect the unit, the patient’s legal rights, and most importantly the future welfare of the unborn child. Fraudulent behaviour may be fuelled by financial pressures, as the cost of treatment is high and public resources are limited. A patient may use a false identity in an attempt to have access to public funding from which he or she would otherwise be precluded. Or there may be more personal reasons, such as a change of partner during treatment.’
If identity fraud is practised, litigation between the IVF provider and the deceived partner who discovers the different genetic origins of the child could result, he added.
Dr Sabatini’s team intends to send the results of their research to clinics across Europe. In a year’s time, they will carry out a further survey to assess whether changes in practice have occurred.
Professor Paul Devroey, Chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology commented: ‘To protect clinics, patients and children against IVF identity fraud, ESHRE recommends that photographic identity and the hospital treatment card should be produced by couples at every treatment visit. Verifying birth date is crucial in establishing identity.’
Ironically the move comes at a time when Europe is being urged to make greater use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) to boost flagging population numbers.
According to a European Commission report, a fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman is necessary to renew the population - however the current fertility rate in Europe is only 1.5 children per woman - and in some countries even lower.
Dr Irena Belohorska, a former gynaecologist and now a Slovak politician and Member of the European Parliament, believes that more use could be made of ART to boost fertility rates. ‘We are witnessing more and more gynaecological problems in women of younger age. Early ovarian ageing, gynaecological cancers and infertility are now also very common - more and more young women being unable to conceive naturally. For many couples,’ she added, ‘the costs for infertility treatment are prohibitive resulting in inequitable access to treatments.’ Dr Belohorska is urging the EU Commission to improve access to ART services.