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UK report reveals public attitudes to fertility, genomics and embryo research

Joseph Hamilton

Progress Educational Trust

30 June 2022

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[BioNews, London]

Discrepancies between public opinion and real-world access to fertility services in the UK have been highlighted by research commissioned by the Progress Educational Trust (PET).

Ipsos surveyed 2233 individuals and found that 67 percent of respondents supported access to fertility treatments, such as IVF, via the NHS. This is in contrast to the actual availability of these services, as many women under 40 are not offered the three cycles of IVF recommended by the National Institute for Care and Health Excellence. Often those seeking fertility treatments are instead subject to the 'postcode lottery', an economic and region-dependent barrier to access.

Speaking about the results of the survey, Sarah Norcross, director of PET, said: 'The commissioning of fertility services needs to catch up with public opinion. These survey results send a strong message to Government, NHS England and commissioning bodies to take action. Infertility is not a lifestyle choice nor a luxury, it is a recognised medical condition that impacts people's physical and mental well-being, affecting not just the individual or couple but their wider family.'

The research also provided more detailed insight into attitudes to fertility access, indicating that only 28 percent of respondents believed same-sex couples should have access to NHS-funded fertility treatment. This dropped to 19 percent when the prospective parent was transgender. Compared with support for access for infertile heterosexual couples (49 percent), this suggests a continuing bias towards traditional family structures.

The research discovered that 75 percent of respondents were willing to donate sperm or eggs in certain circumstances. Clare Ettinghausen, director of strategy and corporate affairs for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said that 'whilst the use of donor eggs and sperm increased from 2019 to 2020, the number of donor registrations decreased during this period. It's therefore reassuring to see PET's findings which suggest that over half of men surveyed would consider donation.'

When it comes to editing the genomes of embryos in a treatment context, 53 percent of respondents agreed with this when the aim was to eliminate severe or life-threatening conditions (eg, cystic fibrosis). Although global outrage was sparked in 2018, by He Jiankui editing the genomes of babies in China, it is interesting to note that UK perceptions are still rather positive. However, PET says in its report that any future medical applications must be carried out 'in a scientifically and ethically rigorous way'.

The research comes at a time of likely policy reform in this area, with the upcoming Women's Health Strategy for England in the immediate term, and key pieces of UK legislation expected to be reviewed in the longer term.

The complete report is available online: Fertility, Genomics and Embryo Research: Public Attitudes and Understanding.

Sources and References

© 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: 30 June 2022   Date Updated: 30 June 2022
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