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UK couple to move frozen embryos abroad

04 August 2006

By Letitia Hughes

Appeared in BioNews 370

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 uterus was removed in an emergency hysterectomy after the birth of their son. The embryos were stored at their IVF clinic, Manchester Fertility Services, and they began looking for a surrogate. Ms Hickman, 33, explained why: 'We have always wanted a large family and under other circumstances would probably have gone on to have five or six children. Feelings for having a large family do not just go away'.

Although friends volunteered to be surrogates, they were deemed unsuitable for health reasons and the search has so far been unsuccessful.

Embryos intended for surrogacy can legally be kept only five years. There is a discrepancy in the law which means that embryos created for any fertility problem other than a missing womb can be kept for ten years. The couple's deadline passed in May. But now the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) have exercised discretionary powers to award a new licence to keep the embryos until they can be exported abroad, probably to an American or Finnish clinic. Ms Hickman said, 'We have been in contact with a number of clinics, but the only ones to have responded so far are in the United States'. The embryos may be returned to the UK at some point in the future. The couple have so far spent £10000 on fertility treatment, the cost of taking the embryos out of Britain will increase this figure.

The HFEA refused to comment on the particular case, but indicated that in 'extremely extenuating circumstances', the storage time limit could be extended. When the situation first arose a HFEA spokesperson said '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'. However, it states that any changes will be delayed until after the government's review of the HFEA act in 2008. Ms Hickman commented, 'I don't know who makes these rules about deadlines, but they should be people who know what they're talking about and have to endure the consequences'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
The Manchester Evening News | 02 August 2006
 
Couple win right to send frozen embryos abroad
The Times | 03 August 2006
 

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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....

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