An increasing number of childless Germans are evading the German law, which forbids genetic research on human embryos, looking to fertility clinics abroad for treatment.
Does the German embyro law refuse infertile couples the right to a baby?
"Jamie is a miracle if ever there was one. He is the baby of my heart. The one I've always wanted and imagined. But, he wouldn't be here if it weren't for you...."
The letter from Caroline is full of thanks - thanks to the Centre for Surrogate Parenting, located in Beverly Hills, California. Without the help of the centre, Caroline would still be without a baby today, and would still feel the pain of more than eight years of waiting, hoping and craving for a child.
Surrogacy, egg donation, PID
Caroline became pregnant with the help of a surrogate – a method unthinkable in Germany. The country's laws strictly rule out surrogacy, egg donation or pre implantation diagnostic (PID), a method to determine whether an embryo has a genetic disorder.
For couples with a history of genetic disorders, this method can be crucial. If they are seeking a child with the help of an egg donation or by artificial insemination, PID enables them to check whether the embryo will also be affected by the disorder.
But as this method is banned by law in Germany. There is fear it could lead to a pre-implantation "selection" - that only embryos with desirable traits would be implanted. But what if would-be parents can see that their baby will be handicapped, homosexual or simply have a hair colour they don't like - would that be reason enough not to implant such an embryo?
Since PID is banned in Germany, more and more German couples are seeking help elsewhere.
The Instituto Valenciano de Infertilidad, IVI, in Spain is one of a number of private clinics in Europe which specialises in reproduction. The IVI is well accustomed to its German patients: It greets visitors to its website in German and already offers prospective parents the possibility to book appointments online. Here, no one asks where patients come from. Customers are welcome from all over the world – as long as they can pay.
Belgium, on the other hand, is thought to be the best destination for PID. Brussels is already known as the city to visit for those couples seeking reproduction assistance due to genetically induced infertility. And the Netherlands is known to be the most popular country for lesbian couples looking for an anonymous sperm donation.
However, the reason why most sterile couples cross borders is the egg donation.
Over a decade ago, Germany passed the most stringent law on embryo protection in Europe. It states that human life begins with the fertilisation of the egg and forbids research that does not serve to protect and maintain the embryo.
On January 30, German parliamentarians voted in favour of a new law allowing the restricted import of human embryonic stem cells. But pre-implementation diagnostic (PID) is still not allowed.
This week, Germany’s ethics commission presented a report which expressed its rejection for a method otherwise allowed in other European countries. Only a minority of the commission was in favour of a strict ruling which would allow PID for couples suffering from genetic disorder.
But what effect do these suggestions, and laws have, when they can easily be evaded simply by the purchase of a plane ticket? And must one accept these laws, when confronted with a childless future ?
Round the clock supervision
Many doctors in Germany are faced with this dilemma: Should they evade the laws to a certain extent, and assist sterile couples in their search for help?
Some go as far as to recommend clinics abroad.
But for those looking for professional assistance and also personal consolation within the German borders, the internet is proving the best remedy.
Here, sterile German couples can discuss clinics and reproduction methods in online-forums. Most clinics abroad have already discovered the potential in Germany, and have websites in German to present their services.
Making babies in the Czech Republic
One country which has discovered this market niche is the Czech Republic. At the Pronatal clinic in Prague, personal supervisors pick patients up from the airport, and are there to console, advise or assist round the clock.
Besides photos of babies, successfully "constructed" at the clinic, a certificate hangs on the wall: "certified QM-System ISO 9001" it says, a German seal of approval. Around 10 per cent of Pronatal’s patients are foreigners, the majority German.
The Czech Republic’s health market analysts are already relying on the country’s accession to the EU, hoping that German quality at Czech prices will appeal to fellow EU members – and in the case of Germany, not only in forbidden areas of medicine.