“That’s right, one lucky woman will win the ultimate chance at starting or building her family,” said a contest announcement issued in April by Long Island IVF, a clinic in Melville, N.Y., that offers in vitro fertilization to women who are having difficulty conceiving.
Contestants were asked to submit “the most emotional or entertaining essays and homemade amateur videos” explaining why they wanted a free round of IVF. “Make us laugh with you or cry with you,” the announcement said. “Tell your story straight from the heart.”
Fertility clinics have found that such promotions, which can include random drawings and essay contests, can be an effective way to raise their profiles and crowd their mailing lists with potential customers. While larger and better-known clinics have no problem filling their waiting rooms with women who can pay $10,000 to $15,000 for a round of IVF — and who know the odds against their success — smaller clinics say they must do what they can to compete, despite the ethical concerns critics have raised.
“It is against the law to raffle off a puppy, but we’re allowed to raffle off the opportunity to have a baby?” said Pamela Madsen, a founder and former executive director of the American Fertility Association, a nonprofit organization based in New York City. “What if they were raffling off chemotherapy? Would we be OK with that?”
The people who stage the raffles say that both sides benefit: one woman gets free treatment, and the sponsor gets publicity.
Still, medical ethicists worry that the contests exploit vulnerable people and trivialize human conception. British authorities have condemned the giveaways and an Australian government official has proposed banning them. Some people are fine with the contests — particularly infertile people who see them as adding some fairness to a system that favors the wealthy.
“If a doctor is willing to donate his services that way, I think that’s amazing,” said Ramsi Stoker, 32, of Holladay, Utah, who last month won a round of IVF donated by the Utah Fertility Center as a raffle prize at a 5K race. She has spent more than $25,000 over four years trying to conceive, without success.
“I don’t know what a better prize could have been,” she said. Besides, she added, “It’s not like they were raffling off a baby.”