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IVF clinics destroy 1m ‘waste’ embryos

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Sunday, December 30, 2007 | 0 comments

MORE than 1m embryos created for fertility treatment in British clinics have been destroyed over the past 14 years, government figures have shown.

The Department of Health data show that 2,137,924 embryos were created using IVF between 1991 and 2005, but about 1.2m were never used.

Extra embryos are created to maximise the chance of a viable one being identified for implantation in the prospective mother.

The scale of the wastage has sparked calls from politicians and infertility groups to find ways to avoid so many being created for treatment. An alternative suggestion is that it should be made easier for couples to “adopt” viable embryos unwanted by their natural parents so they have a chance of life.

Most of the surplus embryos created in clinics were destroyed within days of being created, while others were frozen. Those that survive the freezing process are destroyed if they are not used within 10 years.

Lord Alton, the independent peer who obtained the figures after tabling a parliamentary question, said embryos were being destroyed “at an incredible rate”.

“IVF has ensured that a number of people have been given a chance to have children. But it is surprising how many embryos are being destroyed in the process,” said the peer. “This is a rather unexpected aspect of IVF. If you could just create an embryo to implant, that would be fine.

“I think it would be much better if these embryos that are going to be destroyed were used for infertile couples. At least they would have a chance of life. The number of embryos used is expanding year after year.”

Infertility groups want more people to be encouraged to donate IVF embryos. They want couples who have not succeeded in IVF to have the chance to use embryos from couples who have produced children.

Although embryo adoption is legally permitted in Britain, it is rare. Infertility Network UK, a charity for infertile couples, said it thought there was “more scope for embryo donation” and more should be done to encourage it.

“Lots of people do have surplus embryos and if people could think about donating embryos it would be wonderful,” said a spokesman. “Embryo donation is a much bigger thing in America; it is like adoption. It would be good thing to explore further.”

The Donor Conception Network, which represents families with children born from donated embryos, sperm and eggs, said it thought that families donating embryos should be able to meet prospective “adoptive” parents, as happens in New Zealand.

In America, the Snowflakes charity arranges the adoption of embryos by couples who want children. This has led to the birth of 157 babies in the past 10 years. The couple who created the embryo are allowed to meet prospective parents.

Doctors said surplus embryos were created because women responded differently to fertility drugs. As many as 40 eggs can be used in some treatments and all are fertilised in IVF.

The embryos are then assessed for viability, with only about 20% usually considered strong enough to implant successfully in a woman.

The Snowflakes charity, based in Los Angeles, said it does not “discriminate” between embryos judged to be healthy or unhealthy and added that embryos it has used, which doctors had judged not to be viable, have still produced healthy babies.

Fertility clinics in Britain have varying success with IVF. The highest rate is at the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre, run by Mohamed Taranissi in London. But Taranissi has clashed with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority over safety standards.

The authority said researchers are looking at how to refine IVF treatment, including creating fewer embryos.


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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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