25 October 2009
ByAppeared in BioNews 531
In a debate in the House of Lords of the UK parliament last week, Tory Lord Earl Howe criticised revised regulations that allow for embryos, sperm and eggs to be stored for up to 55 years for prematurely infertile parents. Previous legislation set the maximum storage time at ten years.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Statutory Storage Period for Embryos and Gametes) Regulations state that when one of the recipient parents of the embryo or gamete (egg or sperm) is prematurely infertile, the ten year time limit for storage of frozen embryos or gametes can be extended to up to 55 years. Previously, storage could only last until the provider of the embryo or gamete was 55 years old. This means that under the revised regulations, a child diagnosed to be infertile can receive her mother's eggs decades after they were frozen - at which time she will be at a normal childbearing age, regardless of whether or not the mother is over 55 years of age by this time.
Lord Howe raised concerns about the 'confused genetic identity' of the prospective child in this scenario, as its mother would genetically be its (half) sister, and the donator of the egg or embryo would simultaneously be the child's genetic mother and its social grandmother. Lord Patten, the former Tory Education Secretary supported this, saying that he 'dislike[d] intensely the thought of scrambling the generations'.
Defending the changes, Labour fertility expert Professor Lord Winston expressed his fear that patients will go overseas for similar treatments if they are prohibited here. He also stressed that longer freezing times are not likely to produce a health risk. Baroness Thornton, representing the Government, argued that the changes are beneficial to 'real people in very difficult circumstances' as it gives women who are infertile at a young age the opportunity to have children that are 'genetically linked' to them. She also said that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is 'considering the issue of inter-generational donation and the guidance it needs to provide to clinics'.