HFEA to consider single embryo limit
Dr. Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust30 July 2005
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is to review its rules on how many embryos can be implanted during IVF treatments. Currently, over 90 per cent of IVF cycles in the UK involve transferring two or three embryos to increase the chances of success. However, this also leads to a greater chance of multiple births, which carry a larger risk for both the mother and the children, and costs the National Health Service (NHS) up to 10 times more. Now the HFEA has announced that it will consider limiting IVF treatments to the transfer of a single embryo per cycle, as has been done in some other European countries.
The rates of multiple births are much higher for IVF patients, and twins or triplets are much more likely to be born prematurely or underweight and have an increased risk of physical and learning disabilities. Multiple pregnancies are also more dangerous for mothers, who are more likely to suffer serious complications like pre-eclampsia.
Angela McNab, chief executive of the HFEA, said: 'Women are designed to have healthy babies, one at a time, and with natural conception this is what usually happens. The HFEA wants to see the results of fertility treatment come closer to what occurs naturally'. The HFEA will canvass the views of fertility doctors and other professional organisations, plus patient groups during the review.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists welcomed the review. 'There is no doubt that this is the way for the future and if we are serious about reducing the risk of multiple pregnancy it is the only option in practice', said a spokeswoman. 'There is now considerable experience from Finland, Sweden, Belgium and Holland where the introduction of single embryo transfer has been associated with a marked reduction in twin pregnancy rates but with no reduction in overall success rates', she added.
However, in most of those countries there is significant state funding for IVF. In Belgium, couples can get six free cycles and in Denmark it is five - while in the UK the NHS will at best only fund one cycle. As a result, many patients want to increase their chances of conceiving by having multiple embryos implanted rather than spend thousands of pounds on private treatment. 'There is still a severe lack of NHS funding for fertility treatment and we understand that some couples are willing to take these risks, particularly where they receive no NHS funding and can only afford to pay for one private cycle', warns Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.