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UK parliament alarmed by 1.2 million leftover IVF embryos

MacKenna Roberts

Progress Educational Trust

09 January 2008

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[BioNews, London] Over the past 14 years, over half of the total number of embryos created for use in IVF in the UK have not been used, according to government statistics. Between 1991 and 2005, 1.2 million embryos were not used, from a total of more than two million embryos (2,137,924) created by specialists while assisting infertile couples in the UK to have babies.

In 2005, the live birth rate statistics improved to approximately 21.6 per cent, resulting in 11,262 children through IVF but still involving the creation of around 191,000 embryos. Lord Alton of Liverpool, an anti-abortion Independent peer, requested the data provided by the Department of Health's minister whilst challenging the permitted creation and uses of unwanted embryos particularly for research during recent parliamentary debates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill 2007, a bill designed to revise and modernise its 1990 predecessor.

Lord Alton expressed surprise at the 'incredible rate' of unwanted embryos created in order to achieve successful pregnancies. The alarming data stirred evaluation of regulatory measures to reduce the number of extra IVF embryos destroyed. 'This is a rather unexpected aspect of IVF', Lord Alton admitted, and advocated embryonic-adoption programmes as a solution. Infertility organisations, including Infertility Network UK, felt there would be 'more scope for embryo donation' if encouraged. Bob Spink, the Conservative MP, turned to the medical community to address its high levels of embryo destruction.

Lord Winston, a leading UK fertility expert, tempered the debate with a reminder that even nature is highly inefficient and 'pretty well all of us' have created embryos through unprotected intercourse that do not implant and develop. Many experts estimate that only half of naturally-conceived embryos successfully implant and women commonly discard microscopic unviable embryos without detection.

Unused embryos in clinics under UK law may by consent be discarded, frozen, donated to research or donated to other infertile couples. Specialists create multiple embryos to increase the efficacy of IVF, an invasive, emotionally-taxing and expensive procedure. Only approximately 20 per cent of these will be considered viable for implantation. The others are usually discarded within days of production. Generally two embryos are transferred to the mother to increase chances of successful implantation. Viable embryos are often frozen for future use and must be destroyed within ten years. A smaller number are donated to research - 82,955 of the 1.2 million. Embryo donation to infertile couples for adoption is rare and generally unpopular with donating and prospective parents who were initially motivated to endure medical intervention to have a biological child.

Last month the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority revised its guidance to recommend that clinicians implant only one embryo. The measure aims to reduce risky multiple-birth pregnancies and thereby encourage scientists to discover IVF methods that require fewer embryos. A December 2007 HFEA report revealed that 64 per cent of embryo research conducted in the UK is dedicated to understanding embryo development to improve fertility treatments. Embryo donation for research significantly contributes to further scientific understanding. Many supporters argue it should be encouraged as a more respectful disposal alternative for embryos than pouring them down a drain without contributing to medical progress.



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© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 09 January 2008   Date Updated: 09 January 2008
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