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IVF As Contest Prizes: How Fast Would You Run for a Chance at Motherhood?

A 5K race and essay contests for childless couples to win a single treatment of in vitro fertilization. Ethical or creepy?

Raffles with in vitro fertilization treatments as the prize. The definition of “a new thought.” Buy a ticket, take your chances to win a procedure that can cost $10,000 to $15,000. There’s publicity for the clinic, for sure, and just maybe, a baby for a previously childless couple. How you feeling about that? Are the ends justifying the means? Is it all good, no matter what? Or, are you feeling creeped out at something that seems a little over-the-line?

I first learned of IVF as a prize last September when this headline ran across my Yahoo! page:

COUPLES RUN 5K RACE FOR CHANCE AT FREE IVF TREATMENT

As they say in romance novels, I gasped.

Five hundred and fifty people ran a 5K race in Draper, Utah hoping to score a single chance at parenthood.  I thought of the desperation of the runners zipping past cheering onlookers…OMG. The winners’ hopeful joy; the losers’ sad trips home.  Surely this must be some twisted variation on The Hunger Games“, or perhaps a long lost Ray Bradbury tale.

Fifty-seven couples spent $35-$40 to register for the Utah event, and each received only one raffle entry.  Supporters for each couple also ran, and each submitted their raffle ticket to boost the odds. The race reportedly raised $35,000 for a nonprofit North Carolina fertility center.

I’d thought this event was an anomaly until the NY Times devoted precious front-page, Sunday morning real estate in late October to examine IVF giveaways. Pamela Madsen, a founder of the American Fertility Association, told the Times,

“It is against the law to raffle off a puppy, but we’re allowed to raffle off the opportunity to have a baby? What if they were raffling off chemotherapy? Would we be O.K. with that?”

Except…chemo is generally covered by insurance. IVF treatments, not so much. That’s why the thought that IVF prizes might go to people already blessed with lots of money and coverage for fertility testaments can churn stomachs. Case in Point: The NY Times story revealed that the North Carolina charity benefitting from the Utah 5K now regrets its participation. It seems that race administrators failed to pre-screen entrants to assess financial need. Nobody checked to ask about applicable insurance coverage, either.

Even so, the race dubbed Footsteps for Fertility grew out of a Utah woman’s love for her NotMom sister, not some marketing exec in a conference room. And most importantly, there’s no baby guarantee for the winning couple.

The 5K winner said, “I don’t know what a better prize could have been. It’s not like they were raffling off a baby.” Only 40% of women under 35 become pregnant from a single IVF treatment, and those odds drop to 20% when the women is age 40.

One more thing: This new thought goes beyond the USA’s fruited plains. Controversy over IVF giveaway contests is also bubbling in Britain, and a government official in Australia proposes banning the events altogether. The United Kingdom scores extra gold stars, however, because its National Health Service requires anyone receiving free IVF treatments to meet strict criteria, including being under 40, in a stable relationship with financial hardship, and no living children,

“Financial hardship” circles us back to America’s flawed medical system. The one that tends to save its best magic for citizens with the most money, whether the goal is to save a life, or create one. A strange confusion of ethics, dollars and dreams.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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