LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A controversial IVF lottery will launch in Britain this month giving prospective parents the chance to win thousands of pounds toward expensive fertility treatments in top clinics.
The scheme, which the media have dubbed "win a baby," has already run into trouble on ethical grounds with critics calling it inappropriate and demeaning to human reproduction.
Britain's Gambling Commission has granted a license to fertility charity, To Hatch, to run the game from July 30.
Every month, winners can scoop 25,000 pounds' ($40,175) worth of tailor-made treatments at one of the UK's top five fertility clinics for the price of a 20 pound ticket bought online. The tickets may eventually be sold in newsagents.
The lottery is open to single, gay and elderly players as well as heterosexual couples struggling to start a family.
If standard IVF fails, individuals can be offered reproductive surgery, donor eggs and sperm or a surrogate birth, the charity says, though the winner will only be able to choose one treatment.
Winners will be put up in a luxury hotel before being chauffeur-driven to a treatment center. They will also get a mobile phone and a personal assistant to help with queries.
Camille Strachan, founder and chair of the charity, who has had fertility treatment of her own, told Reuters she wanted to create the "ultimate wish list" for those struggling with the stress of being unable to conceive.
"The license couldn't have come at a better time with drastic (government health service) budget cuts ... where in most cases IVF is the first on the hit list, rendering most couples resorting to private treatment."
But some medical and ethical groups condemned the game and the Gambling Commission said the issues it had thrown up may need further scrutiny.
Britain's fertility regulator, The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said using IVF as a prize was "wrong and entirely inappropriate."
"It trivializes what is for many people a central part of their lives," it added in a statement.
Josephine Quintavalle, from the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said "creation of human life should not be reduced to a public lottery ... this demeans the whole nature of human reproduction."
The Gambling Commission said it had noted reaction to the scheme but said it had no regulatory powers to intervene and that any decision to revoke a license would be a government one.
"This particular example, perhaps, has thrown up some questions which may need looking at and whether that is by us or the government I don't know," a spokesman said.
"There has been concern expressed about this, but from our perspective it's a pretty straightforward granting of a license application for a lottery operator.
Around one couple in seven suffers from fertility problems in the UK, according to the fertility regulator. Latest figures show 40,000 patients were treated with IVF in 2008 which led to 15,000 babies being born as a result of that treatment.
Editing by Steve Addison