The government is continuing with the nationalization of fertility clinics in Hungary, the next stage of which started last week after a year and a half. Under a new bill, from next summer women will only be able to be treated in state-run fertility treatment clinics in Hungary.
The government announced in December 2019 that it would soon buy six private fertility treatment centers. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the time gave two reason for the decision: as a “pro-life government” they would like to know what happens to the unused eggs; also, they want to make the treatments free. Following the acquisition, the prime minister denied it was a nationalization as technically the state simply bought all the companies on the market.
But now, that seems to be the case after all, as last week a bill amendment was published according to which the remaining private clinics providing fertility treatments will not be able to operate for much longer. The current version of the draft effectively bans their operation, and from next summer only state-run fertility clinics will be able to treat eligible women in Hungary.
The justification of the bill states that “…the demographic challenges in Hungary call for a response from the state.”
Although the amendment would come into effect from the July 1, 2022, new treatments wouldn’t be able to commence in the affected clinics either from the 30th of September this year.
According to news site hvg.hu, this would include not only new patients but also new treatments for existing patients. Providers would be compensated, but they would also have to hand over the embryos and gametes they hold. If this were to happen, the state would take control of infertility treatments in Hungary for good.
The government has long been aiming to halt population decline with many different measures and has previously stressed that this is precisely why state ownership is needed for these clinics.
It is difficult to argue with the goals of the changes to infertility care, as the measure could significantly increase access to the treatment. However, there are also many who could be negatively affected if the legislation is eventually passed.
As hvg.hu points out, apart from the few private medical centers, fertility treatments are only available in 12 state-subsidized fertility clinics in Hungary, while an estimated 150-200,000 couples are in need of the treatment. By comparison, in the Czech Republic, which has a similar population size to Hungary, there are nearly 40 such centers, operating under various forms of funding. This makes fertility treatment centers incredibly overloaded and takes away the freedom of choice from the women concerned.
Additionally, the planned regulation could also have an adverse effect on gay couples, as artificial insemination is one of the few alternatives for them to have children in Hungary, especially now that adoption has been made almost impossible for them.
At this point we don’t know what will happen to the few private fertility clinics if the legislation is adopted, whether they will have to cease their operations or will be acquired by the state, just like in the past.
However, in addition to the demographic goals mentioned in the legislation, Gergely Gulyás, the prime minister’s chief of staff, has also put forward a more surprising explanation in favor of nationalizing the clinics. The minister accused private clinics of outright fraud.
Gulyás said that the government wanted to take infertility procedures into state hands because it involves a significant amount of financial resources and they have seen irregularities.
According to Gulyás, if there were five fertility treatments funded by the state, interestingly enough, it was always the last one that was successful.
Featured photo by Márton Mónus/MTI