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2 Sep, 2009 03:03

Doctors charged with trafficking human eggs

Romanian prosecutors have shut down a private fertility clinic, and its owners – two Israeli doctors – are now facing up to ten years in prison for allegedly paying women to donate their eggs.

The doctors, arrested last month, were released by the Bucharest court on bail on Monday.

They are forbidden from practicing medicine during the investigation. The clinic owners also cannot leave Bucharest or contact any other suspects in the case.

Sabyc Medical Centre in Bucharest has given many women what nature couldn’t: life to children and joy to parents. But now the Israeli-owned in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic has been forced to close amid allegations of trafficking human tissue.

Doctors have been accused of paying women for their eggs. Even though in some countries it is routine practice to give women compensation for the pain and inconvenience of donating eggs, in Romania it’s illegal.

It’s also claimed that the doctors failed to carry out sufficiently rigorous medical checks on donors, with poor or vulnerable or sometimes underage women becoming the main providers of eggs.

All these allegations have been denied, but Romania’s medical community remains angry.

“Medical activity is not like industrial activity or something else,” said surgeon Florin Chirculescu. “And you really should comply with the rules otherwise patients are in danger.”

More than 2,000 operations were performed over a period of 10 years, allegedly netting the doctors more than 20 million euros.

Ion Cazacu, the doctors’ lawyer, believes the charges have been highly exaggerated. He says no donor has ever been paid and the controversy stems from different standards in Romania.

“These doctors are well-known abroad, they are highly educated and good professionals,” he said. “Romania is not yet ready for this kind of medicine and that is where the misunderstandings come from. What the whole world already takes as normal is something of a science fiction for this country.”

Nineteen-year old Elena is one of the donors. While talking to RT, she refused to show her face on camera, saying lawyers advised her not to speak to the media. She also refused to say whether she was given any money.

“I just wanted to help other women to have a baby, as I can imagine how awful it is when you cannot be a mother, which is essential for all women,” she said. “But I didn’t know exactly what my participation would consist of. I was just told I had to face some medical procedure.”

Vasile Astarastoae, the head of Romania’s Medical College, the country’s main medical watchdog, has been monitoring the clinic since 2006. He says the investigation was delayed due to corruption.

“Huge money has been involved and a number of high-ranking officials were certainly taking part in it, sharing profit with these doctors,” he said. “So they’ve been well protected.”

Now the Sabyc clinic is closed, and the two doctors who were working in it – who claimed they were “helping women be women” – could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.