Tunisia seems an unlikely place for IVF clinics, but according to a feature in Jeune Afrique, it has become “a destination of choice on the continent for assisted reproduction”. But since Tunisia pioneered family planning and abortion rights in the 1960s, perhaps it was predictable. Most foreign clients come from Libya, Algeria and sub-Saharan Africa.
IVF is not un-Islamic, according to one of the leaders of assisted reproduction in Tunisia, Professor Béchir Hamza. He liked to quote a hadith of the Prophet: "On the day of the Resurrection, the Prophet will be proud of the numerical importance of his community and believers are encouraged to reproduce".
Tunisians, however, do not appear to have been following the Prophet’s advice. The birth rate has fallen steeply, from 6.9 in 1962 to 2.1 today. That may be the reason why IVF has become so popular.
Tunisia only permits IVF for married couples and it bans sperm or oocyte donations. It also discourages the production of surplus embryos. Some doctors want these restrictions to be loosened. But there are no changes on the horizon. "We have found a balance between modernity, scientific advances and religious respect, there is no need to turn everything upside down," one lawyer told Jeune Afrique. "Being less permissive reassures future parents about the attribution of filiation and avoids problems of inheritance," says a family judge.
Excluding accommodation for the couple, the average cost of IVF in Tunisia is 4,500 dinars, or 1,300 euros. The government will cover the cost for Tunisian women under the age of 40 who have been married for three years benefit.
Over the years demand has been increasing, notes gynaecologist Faouzi Ariane. "Even if some infertility is psychological, or even inexplicable, more and more couples are taking the plunge and beginning an IVF process that will enable them to start a family -- and to avoid divorce, of which infertility is one of the most frequent causes.”
Hat tip to Gènéthique.
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge
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