A nationwide lottery offering couples the chance to win fertility treatment was strongly criticised last night. Fertility experts described the initiative as the "start of a slippery slope".
At its launch yesterday, a UK-based charity offered people – couples or singles of both sexes – the chance to win £25,000 for a round of IVF treatment at a "top clinic", in return for a £20 ticket.
The lottery is being organised by the charity To Hatch, founded by Camille Strachan, 38, to help people who are struggling to conceive. The winner of the lottery, which is licensed by the UK Gambling Commission, will be randomly selected by a computer in September. Further monthly draws are then planned.
Ms Strachan says she hoped the lottery "can ease the burden on the NHS and reduce the stress on some of those who are struggling."
It is understood that a number of UK clinics have refused to participate, sparking rumours that a clinic in Barbados would be one of the destinations. Ms Strachan has declined to reveal which "top" clinics would offer the treatment.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) have criticised the move as "wrong and entirely inappropriate". They described it as running "counter to the ethos that underpins our regulatory system and clinical practice".
Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at the University of Sheffield and a spokesperson for the British Fertility Society, said: "In my view it's a slippery slope to be dishing out healthcare like this, particularly when it comes to children. My mother and father used to say they found me under a gooseberry bush – can you imagine telling a child that he or she was won in a raffle?
"Ethics aside, I think it is precisely the current postcode lottery of NHS funding which makes this charity think it can make this venture a success. Couples either find they can't get access to NHS treatment or they get only a single attempt and therefore need to fund any further treatment privately if that is unsuccessful."
Despite criticism of the charity, public responses on internet chat forums were mixed. Although the majority expressed misgivings, hundreds of people indicated on Facebook and Twitter that they intended to buy tickets. Many took the view that the lottery is a good idea, given what is widely perceived as a cut in the provision of IVF treatment on the NHS.
A spokesman for the Gambling Commission, which regulates lotteries, said: "The commission plays no statutory role in judging ethical questions that fall outside of the Gambling Act 2005. A licence is granted if all the criteria are met."