The number of Japanese who received ova donations as part of fertility treatments in Thailand has increased more than 10-fold in recent years, a recent Yomiuri Shimbun investigation has found.
According to the research, the number of Japanese who traveled to Thailand for such treatment had been about 20 a year from 2007 to 2009, but surged to 133 in 2010 and to 231 in 2011.
Apparent reasons include lower costs than in the United States, Thailand's relative proximity to Japan and toughened regulations on the procedure in South Korea.
The investigation also found that at least 62 Japanese women in 2011 went to Thailand to donate ova.
The findings shed light on the fact that there is an ova-brokering industry mediating between Japanese donors and recipients in Thailand.
The Yomiuri Shimbun investigated major medical institutions and brokerage firms engaging in ova provision services in Bangkok.
The cost of a one-time treatment ranges from about 1 million yen to 3 million yen(S$46,213) in Thailand, compared with between 2.5 million yen and 6 million yen in the United States.
Somboon Kunathikom, president of the Royal Thai College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the standard of medical treatment in Thailand is on a par with that in the United States because many of the doctors have studied at US universities.
The Thai organization's research showed that 5,164 cases of in vitro fertilization were conducted in Thailand in 2010, including those for foreign patients.
Somboon assumed that about 10 per cent of the cases involved ova donations.
For reasons of low cost and geographical convenience, South Korea had been the major destination for such Japanese until recent years.
But as South Korea has toughened regulations on the de facto trading of ova in the guise of payment for expenses, brokerage firms shifted to Thailand.
Ova donors are not only Thai women but also Japanese women recruited by brokerage firms via the Internet and other means.
Three brokerage firms alone that provided information to The Yomiuri Shimbun said that 15 Japanese women traveled to Thailand to donate ova in 2010, followed by 62 in 2011.
The brokerage firms said they have tried to avoid future problems by not giving donors' names to the recipient women or allowing them to meet.
Thailand does not have any laws to restrict ova donations. Thai medical associations, however, now prohibit donations of ova in exchange for monetary rewards.
But even that prohibition has no penalty clauses. Sources said Japanese donors receive 600,000 yen to 700,000 yen on average.
Last year, the Thai government began discussing legislation--including penalty clauses--to prohibit paid ova donations.
In Japan, there is no official system for third-party ova donations, and only a limited number of medical institutions conduct the treatment.
As a result, many Japanese who wish to have children through the method traveled abroad to receive ova donations.
The Yomiuri Shimbun's investigation of domestic medical institutions offering the treatment found that in the five years from 2007 to 2011, at least 90 Japanese women received ova donations overseas, became pregnant and gave birth and 130 babies were born in these cases.