So many fertility patients are experiencing the heartbreak of IVF cycles being cancelled, or treatment being halted partway through a cycle, during the global coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. For some older patients who may not get another chance, the enforced cessation of treatment is particularly devastating.
Everyone working in the fertility sector recognises that time is of the essence for patients experiencing infertility. It is good to see the UK fertility community working together, through bodies such as the British Fertility Society and the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists, to ensure that processes are in place for a safe and smooth reopening of fertility clinics as soon as this is deemed possible.
As clinics begin to operate once more in countries including Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain, the UK can learn from the experiences in these countries. The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine are doing valuable work considering whether, when and how treatment might be resumed.
But resuming treatment is only part of the challenge. For people who fall afoul of age-related access criteria imposed by England's Clinical Commissioning Groups (CGCs), there has been no assurance that the clock has stopped ticking. Given the circumstances, the Progress Educational Trust (PET) – the charity that publishes BioNews – has been urging CCGs to effectively 'stop the clock' in relation to accessing NHS-funded fertility treatment, so that patients are not disadvantaged through no fault of their own.
PET understands that this is what will happen in Scotland, where fertility treatment is commissioned centrally. We hope CCGs will follow suit, and thereby help patients who already had to contend with an IVF postcode lottery before the current pandemic added to their difficulties.
We are delighted that our work has prompted the UK Government to stop the clock in one crucial respect – namely, by granting a two-year extension to the ten-year legal limit on storage of eggs, sperm and embryos, as reported elsewhere on BioNews this week. This extension is a pragmatic solution to the current situation, and will come as a huge relief to patients who have yet to use their frozen eggs, sperm or embryos to try for a baby.
However, there remains a broader problem to be resolved. The Government's announcement of an extension was influenced by – and underlines the importance of – PET's ongoing #ExtendTheLimit campaign, which calls for a substantial and permanent extension to the ten-year limit on the storage of eggs for non-medical (social) reasons.
This outdated and unscientific limit means that increasing numbers of women face a stark choice between seeing their frozen eggs destroyed, or becoming a mother before they are ready to do so. Please help PET change this situation by signing and sharing our #ExtendTheLimit petition at www.change.org/extendthelimit (if you can post a comment when you sign, then this is even better!).
The legal, social and medical issues surrounding egg, sperm and embryo freezing were explored at a PET event earlier this year, and PET has made this discussion more widely accessible in a series of online films. Another development reported on BioNews this week concerns special legal requirements for confidentiality and secrecy that apply to fertility treatment, and this too was explored at a recent PET event that is now available to watch online as a series of films.
Unfortunately holding face-to-face public events is not practical at the moment, which is why some of the PET events that were due to take place in coming weeks have had to be postponed or cancelled. But rest assured that we have plans to start holding some of our events online, and will have some exciting announcements to make about this in the near future.
In the meantime, we could not do any of the work discussed above without your support. We appreciate that times are tough and uncertain for many of you at the moment, but please donate what you can to our appeal.
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Thanks for your continued support. We appreciate it, now more than ever.