Visiting the websites of fertility clinics could bring up pages of smiling babies, happy families, and convincing statistics of the "miracles" provided by those clinics. But a new report—that studied the websites of 372 fertility clinics in the United States registered with the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART)—suggests the advertising methods many of these clinics use may be misrepresenting their services and creating false hope for women.
The research, conducted by Jim Hawkins, an assistant professor of law at the University of Houston, found that:
"[N]early 80 percent of the clinics' websites had photos of babies on their homepage. Thirty percent used the word "dream" and nearly 9 percent used the word "miracle."
Hawkins thinks that such techniques cause patients to disregard the high costs of IVF treatment, which averages at about $12,500 per attempt, and also lead some patients to believe that success is "a likely outcome."
But while stock imagery and flowery language could fall under the category of "it's not right, but it's OK." However, the report found that many of the clinics were indeed in violation of SART's advertising policy:
[I]t mandates that clinics providing program statistics on their website note that comparisons of success rates "may not be meaningful" because patients and treatment approaches may vary from clinic to clinic. According to the report, 71 percent of clinics had that statement on their websites, but 29 percent did not…19 percent of the clinics that posted comparison statements on their websites, violated the requirement that they only compare their success rates to national, SART-generated data. Instead, those clinics compared their rates to other, specific clinics, sometimes in addition to national averages.
Hawkins hope is that his research will prompt legislators to "take a closer look," at the problem, especially since self-regulation has evidently failed. It's particularly important, as the fertility industry is indeed big business. Fertility services annually gross over $4 billion in the U.S. alone, while only one percent of babies born in America are conceived from assisted reproduction.