Spain: The “Go-To” Place for Fertility Treatments?

That’s how the Spanish bureau of The Local media outlet characterizes the nation that occupies most of the Iberian Peninsula. But why?

In a manner of speaking, it’s not one side of the coin or the other, but a mixture of both that’s prompted foreigners to book fertility tours to Spain, mixing treatments with a dose of sightseeing and/or soaking up the sunshine on one of the country’s many beaches.

The “coin” in question: Government policies and regulations, which in some cases have been liberalized so as to offer free services to previously marginalized social groups, and in others tightened to ensure safe and sensible protocols of care.

Back in 2006, for instance, Spain passed a law that permitted women above the age of 18, whether single or in same-sex or heterosexual relationships, to receive reproductive care services such as IVF or artificial insemination. Single women or those in same-sex relationships can’t seek such services in France, making Spain an obvious alternative.

And Spain ensures that the identities of sperm and egg donors are kept secret; the country also allows women up to the age of 50 to access fertility treatment. France’s age limit is capped at 43; egg donations are said to be rare there.

More recent developments in Spain have occurred since the conservative government was replaced by a Socialist one. Effective January 2019, the country will give free reproductive treatment to same-sex and single women – a benefit that had been removed in 2014 by the previous government.

As a result, fully four in ten of all fertility treatments undertaken in Europe occur in Spain, says the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, which held its 2018 annual meeting in Barcelona.

Laura Alonso, who runs the communications department of a Spanish fertility clinic, attributes the influx of fertility visitors to simple word of mouth, which in this day and age can take the form of social media chatter.

“Those messages can reach every corner of the Earth,” she recently told El País, “and have been key in the international development of Spanish [fertility] clinics.”

All well and good for those who are within relatively easy travel distance to Spain. Others, however, expect more when considering a trip halfway around the world to access fertility care.

“People began demanding vacation experiences,” Alonso explained “We don’t organize holiday packages ourselves, but we do put patients in touch with tour operators or hotels.”

As news of “fertility tourism” spread, patients living closer to Spain decided to follow suit, including large numbers of British women.

The Telegraph newspaper reported in 2015 that approximately 300 women from the U.K. are treated every year in one of 17 fertility clinics run by IVI, a Spanish clinic that reported receipts in excess of £101 million (€142 million) in 2013.

For one British woman, the reasons for going to Spain for treatment were manifold: At her advanced age, she stood less than a two per cent chance of conceiving by relying on her own egg supplies; her chances increased to 25 per cent with donor eggs, but the wait in the U.K. was six months; and, she wanted an anonymous donor.

The latter was made impossible by a 13-year-old U.K. law that gives children the right to learn the identity of egg and sperm donors once they turn 18.

IVI in Spain, the woman told the Telegraph, “was able to find a donor with my own blond hair and blue eyes, something never offered to us in the UK.”

Other key fertility regulations in Spain that are a matter of law and/or Royal Decree:

  • Human-assisted reproduction techniques are required to be performed by special teams in authorized centers.

  • Donation of human embryos or gametes is a secret, free, and formal contract between the donor and the fertility center.

  • Research on so-called viable embryos will only be permitted to assist efforts aimed at discovering therapeutic or preventative health benefits – and the “genetic inheritance” is not allowed to be modified.

  • Freezing of sperm is permitted, but may only be kept in authorized storage facilities for up to five years (Legacy’s Platinum Package, by contrast, includes as many as 20 years of cryogenic storage in temperature-constant liquid nitrogen tanks and also allows for an option to store genetic material indefinitely).

Clearly, Spain has not only capitalized on an opportunity to offer fertility services but has also demonstrated a real and valuable concern for personal needs, as well. And the many lures of the surrounding countryside amount to an offer that many patients find difficult to resist.