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King's College London - Health: More than a medical matter

UK couple's bid to save stored embryos

02 May 2006

By BioNews

Appeared in BioNews 356

A UK woman who underwent fertility treatment after having her womb removed is calling for a change in the law, to prevent frozen embryos belonging to herself and her husband from being destroyed next week. The couple, who have not managed to find a suitable Surrogacy mother to bear their children since the embryos were created in 2001, found out in December 2005 that embryos intended for treatments involving surrogacy can only be kept in frozen storage for five years. Michelle Hickman and Martin Hymers are now hoping to transfer the embryos to a fertility laboratory abroad.

Ms Hickman, now aged 33, underwent an emergency hysterectomy operation six years ago after the birth of the couple's son Robert. 'I was horrified', she told GMTV news, adding 'we wanted a large family and I wanted to carry our children'. Following the advice of doctors, the couple decided to undergo fertility treatment at the Manchester Fertility Services clinic, and to freeze any resulting embryos while they searched for a surrogate mother to carry them. But under current UK law, five of the resulting embryos must be destroyed by 8 May 2006, followed by another seven embryos next year. Unlike embryos created during treatment for other types of infertility, the couple are not allowed to apply for an extension to the storage time.

The 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act - which governs all fertility treatment and research involving embryos in the UK - is currently under review, so the couple are now hoping for a change in the law that will allow them to keep their embryos. In the meantime, they are trying to move them to storage facilities overseas, in the hope that they can bring them back at some point in the future.

A spokesman for the UK's fertility treatment regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), was unable to comment specifically on the case, but agreed that the current law does appear to discriminate against couples hoping to use embryos in surrogacy arrangements. 'Parliament decided as part of the legislation in 1996 that surrogacy should be excluded as a reason for extending storage periods', he told GMTV, adding 'both the HFEA and fertility professionals have already raised this issue with the Government as one that needs reconsidering in the ongoing review of fertility legislation'.


BBC News Online | 01 May 2006
Save our embryos
GMTV | 02 May 2006


14 September 2009 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The UK Government has introduced changes to allow individuals whose embryos have been frozen for over five years before the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act 2008 comes into force on 1 October 2009 to store them for longer. Before the changes were made, the Act stipulated that such embryos must be destroyed, but Health Minister Gillian Merron stepped in to make a supplementary provision to the Act to extend the time limit for storage to a total of ten years.... [Read More]
04 August 2006 - by Letitia Hughes 
A UK couple from Greater Manchester, fighting to prevent their frozen embryos from being destroyed, have been given extra time to try find a clinic abroad to store them. Michelle Hickman, 33, and her husband, Martin Hymers, 34, underwent IVF to freeze six embryos after Ms Hickman's... [Read More]
11 May 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
A British couple who are fighting to save their unused IVF embryos from destruction are hoping to have them transferred to a Belgian clinic, following negotiations with the UK's fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). According to current UK law, the embryos should... [Read More]

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