More Trouble in Store? The Two-Year Extension to Embryo and Gamete Storage Limits
Progress Educational Trust
Event to be held online, via Zoom Video Webinars
9 July 2020 5pm-6pm
A free-to-attend online event being held this coming Thursday (9 July 2020), from 5pm-6pm. To attend/participate via the web, please register here.
This Progress Educational Trust (PET) event will discuss and clarify a change to UK law - introduced to address problems caused by the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic - which comes into force in July 2020, and grants a temporary extension to the 10-year legal limit on the storage of eggs, sperm and embryos.
The new law has implications for fertility patients, fertility clinics and researchers in life sciences and biomedicine, as well as for the regulator of this area (the HFEA).
Attendees will not be audible or visible during this online event, but will still be able to put questions and comments to the speaker and chair (via a Q&A tool within Zoom Video Webinars).
Ordinarily, under UK law, frozen gametes (eggs and sperm) and frozen embryos can be stored for a maximum of 10 years. Before this limit is reached, gametes and embryos are required by law to be used in fertility treatment, to be used in research, or to be destroyed.
Patients who freeze their gametes or embryos for medical reasons - because these patients are prematurely infertile, or likely to become so - have an additional option. They are permitted by law to renew their consent to storage before the ten-year limit is reached, and to continue renewing until they reach an absolute maximum storage limit of 55 years.
However, patients who freeze their gametes or embryos for non-medical or 'social' reasons do not have this option, and are faced with an absolute maximum storage limit of ten years. This can have difficult consequences, particularly for women who freeze their eggs.
Following a campaign led by PET, the UK Government has consulted on the possibility of making long-term changes to this area of law, and is currently weighing up its options. However, the global coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has led to more immediate problems with gamete and embryo storage limits.
All UK fertility treatment in the UK was mandatorily suspended during part of 2020, and resumption of fertility treatment remains challenging even now. Patients for whom the ten-year limit was imminent when treatment was suspended were faced with the distressing prospect of seeing their gametes or embryos mandatorily destroyed, before these gametes or embryos could be used in treatment.
Additionally, the pandemic has caused problems for researchers in life sciences and biomedicine, who use gametes and embryos donated by patients. Many researchers were unable to access their laboratories during the pandemic, and were therefore unable to use gametes or embryos for which the ten-year limit was imminent.
In order to address these problems, the UK Government has introduced new Regulations which come into force in July 2020, granting a temporary two-year extension to the ten-year legal limit.
The HFEA has been corresponding with clinics and researchers, explaining what these new Regulations mean in practice. But the law governing this area can be forbiddingly complex, even before the new Regulations are taken into account. In order to help provide clarity, this PET event will discuss the two-year extension and related issues.
If tweeting about this event, please use the hashtag #COVIDextension