Last Chance Lecture with Amy Speier on IVF tourism

Carolyn Schultz

Tuesday, Anthropology fellow Amy Speier presented a lecture on “In-vitro Fertilization: Baby Quests to the Czech Republic.” The address was part of the “First Chance, Last Chance” lecture series sponsored by Lawrence’s Mortar Board, a senior honor society. The series gives first-year professors and departing professors a chance to give a lecture focusing on their own research.
Speier, who received her bachelor of science degree in anthropology from UC Berkley and her doctorate in medical anthropology from the University of Pittsburg, came to Lawrence in the fall of 2005 as a one-year visiting professor. She ended up staying as a Lawrence fellow for three more years and “loved it.” While at Lawrence, her research in medical anthropology focused on the Czech Republic’s booming medical tourism economy.
The medical tourism market in the Czech Republic includes spas, Thai massages, plastic surgery, and Speier’s focus, reproductive clinics. The Czech Republic raked in over $183 million in 2006 from this market alone. Speier’s research deals specifically with a clinic in Zlin, Czech Republic and the American Web-based company IVF Vacation. IVF Vacation primarily works to assist affluent infertile Americans with in-vitro fertilization, at almost a third of the cost of procedures in the U.S.
According to Speier, the draw to the Czech Republic is due to the immediate availability of donors, especially egg donors. Even though a 2006 law specifies that donation be legal, voluntary, and given without the expectation of payment, donors are given compensation of approximately $800. For a Czech laborer, this is equivalent to three months’ wages.
Speier emphasized that IVF Vacation and the medical tourism industry plays this off to be commercially motivated. “The IVF patients become patrons [for students and Czech poor requiring economic assistance]”, said Speier. However, Speier counters, “[donations] can’t all be economically motivated.”
Speier also found that the Czech clinics treat their American patients differently. For Czech women, the maximum age for IVF treatments is 38, while American women cannot be over the age of 51. Speier found that in testimonials offered on the IVF Vacation Web site, many American patients said doctors, with their expensive procedures – approximately $30,000 for IVF treatment, are profiteers and in the business only for economic gain. Contrastingly, they attribute the lower cost of treatment in the Czech Republic to the altruism of Czech doctors.
For her future research, Speier wants to conduct more ethnographic research on egg donors to determine if there are cultural motivations that accompany their need for economic assistance. She plans to conduct a summer research project in Zlin to both review the procedures in the clinic and to interview donors. In addition, she hopes to conduct a long-term longitudinal study in which she will interview IVF Vacation patients throughout their treatment process and the years following completion.
Speier has accepted a tenure-track position as an associate professor of anthropology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla.