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Controversy over NHS funding of fertility treatment for transgender patients

15 August 2016

By Dr Mary Yarwood

Appeared in BioNews 864

Transgender men are being permitted to freeze their eggs at NHS-funded fertility clinics, prior to gender re-assignment.

This treatment allows individuals to store eggs for future use in IVF and surrogacy. However, critics say it is not the responsibility of the NHS to fund fertility treatment for transgender patients.

According to Dr James Barrett of the NHS Gender Identity Clinic in West London, at least three British transgender men may soon become parents through IVF treatment. He stated that, during the last 12 months, he had asked GPs to refer 50 female-to-male patients to have their eggs frozen and 100 male-to-female patients to have their sperm frozen. While some local NHS authorities agreed to fund this treatment immediately, others refused or took months to decide.

'As a matter of principle, anybody who loses their fertility as a result of standard NHS treatment should be able to preserve their fertility,' said Dr Barrett. The offer to preserve gametes is made routinely to those receiving chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Dr Barrett questioned, 'Why are people with cancer particularly magic and get this [NHS fertility treatment], and other people don't? Transgender patients want to live like normal people. They want what everybody else gets as a matter of course.'

However, Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, stated that it is a waste of NHS resources at a time when basic services are being rationed 'to fund fertility treatment so men can give birth'.

Transgender individuals can choose to use a surrogate, who is often the person's partner, to carry an embryo created from their frozen gametes. While the NHS may fund initial egg or sperm preservation, only individuals with fertility problems will receive NHS fertility treatment. A couple using a surrogate would likely have to pay for that treatment.

This consideration may be unnecessary in certain rare cases of female-to-male transgender patients who retain their female sexual organs. One example includes Thomas Beatie, a transgender man who stopped taking male hormones and conceived without IVF treatment in 2008.

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