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Experts press for rules to rein in fertility clinics

In a step towards closing down illegal fertility clinics and bringing uniformity among the existing ART (Advanced Reproductive Technique) clinics, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) under the Union ministry of health, has framed national guidelines for accreditation, supervision and regulation of all fertility clinics across the country.

The decision to frame national guidelines was taken after a secret probe by the health ministry revealed that the majority of the clinics was ill-equipped to handle sophisticated cases like test tube babies, and many were fake, taking people for a ride with false promises of helping them become parents.

However, before implementing the ICMR guidelines, framed by top infertility experts of the country, the government has decided to organise debates on the issue throughout the country.

On Saturday, it was the turn of Calcutta to host the national debate on the upcoming set of rules to bring uniformity to all ART clinics.

Two top city-based infertility experts, Baidyanath Chakraborty and S. Ghosh Dastidar, are on the expert committee, which is pressing for the implementation of the rules. Once the rules are implemented, the expert committee will also visit the clinics and shut down those that are not found upto the mark.

“Over the years there has been a mushrooming of clinics all over the place, with only a handful of them following some specifications. This is the first time an attempt is being made to bring uniformity and ask them to abide by certain specifications, which is very important,” said Chakraborty, eminent infertility expert and a pioneer in the successful birth of test-tube babies in the city.

The national debate on Saturday was attended by several infertility experts. All participants welcomed the move to implement stringent laws for the clinics. Issues like correct evaluation of infertile couples, role of endoscopy in diagnosis of infertility and an interactive session on the new national guidelines were discussed at length.

The guidelines cover a long “code of ethics” for all clinics to follow, including proper screening of patients to detect any abnormality that can cause infertility. The ICMR has also suggested repeated and comprehensive tests in case a patient seems infertile. It has also been decided to divide the clinics into three levels — primary, secondary and tertiary, with state-of-the-art equipment and proper manpower to handle the cases.

The rule prescribes getting written consents at every step of the treatment and lays stress on explaining both the benefits and the risks involved in artificial reproductive methods.

Another guideline states that an HIV-positive woman cannot be refused ART but should be adequately counselled about the possibility of the mother-to-child transmission of the virus. “The rules have been framed keeping in mind the wide cross- section of patients arriving at fertility clinics. These rules are extremely important and must be followed,” said infertility expert Ghosh Dastidar.

It has also been proposed that all clinics be supervised by an ethics committee which would ensure that the clinics implement the ICMR guidelines. Scientists specialising in developmental biology and clinical embryology, a member of the judiciary and an expert in comparative theology will form the committee.

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