Page URL:

HFEA reveals plans to update fertility law

6 December 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1124

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has detailed potential updates to current laws regarding fertility treatment practices in the UK, including improved patient protection.

The announcement was made in a speech delivered by Julia Chain, chair of the HFEA, at the annual conference of the Progress Educational Trust (PET, the charity that publishes BioNews). She clarified that much of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which established laws regarding fertility treatments and research (and was given a major update in 2008), remains suitable for purpose. However, she argued, the sector had become increasingly difficult to regulate, given substantial medical advances and changes in social attitudes.

'The fertility sector has really changed significantly since the Act was first brought into being', Chain told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 prior to the conference. 'It's time we really had a look at what needs to be modernised.'

In her speech, Chain pointed out that the Act does not contain 'any words in it relating to patients, patient safety, or even outcomes of treatment'. As a regulator, she argued that it was the duty of the HFEA 'to keep all those three things at the front of our work'.

Sarah Norcross, director of PET, welcomed the call for modernisation. 'We decided to hold our "Reproducing Regulation" conference, with speakers including the HFEA and other regulators, because the law and regulation that govern fertility treatment and related research are showing their age', she said. 'This is a fantastic opportunity to clarify who regulates fertility, and how.'

In her speech, Chain highlighted several areas of the Act that require particular focus. The first concerned patient protection and maintaining the quality of care provided for them. This would include a broader range of methods for addressing poor performance, such as economic sanctions against non-compliant clinics. This would also include addressing the increasing commercialisation of the fertility sector, where 65 percent of treatments are self-funded and public funding is poorly distributed, resulting in a 'postcode lottery'.

Under this heading, Chain also addressed fertility treatment 'add-ons', and the possibility that these may contribute to patient confusion or vulnerability to financial exploitation by clinics. She explained that as things currently stand, the HFEA has little power over this aspect of fertility treatment – hence the HFEA's recent collaboration with the Competition and Markets Authority (see BioNews 1099), whose director of consumer protection spoke alongside Chain at PET's conference.

Chain touched on several other areas where she considered the Act to be out of step with modern families and medicine, including the definition of a mother as 'the woman who is carrying or has carried a child'. This effectively excludes some same-sex couples, trans parents and single parents.

Chain also singled out the 14-day rule, which requires human embryos used in research to be destroyed within 14 days of their creation, and the fact that information about fertility treatment has a special status of medical secrecy (over and above ordinary considerations of patient confidentiality).

Chain anticipated that quick progress would be made bringing about these changes, saying that 'we are not starting with a blank sheet of paper and much of the Act remains fit for purpose'. She added that her aim is 'to reach an outline agreement with the Department of Health and Social Care next year on what needs to change.'

Clampdown on useless IVF extras
Sunday Times |  28 November 2021
Emma Barnett: IVF is painful and punishing enough without clinics pushing unproven treatments
iNews |  6 December 2021
The HFEA 30 years on – what needs to change?
HFEA |  3 December 2021
Today programme (item begins at 2:41:50)
BBC Radio 4 |  29 November 2021
17 January 2022 - by Professor Ashley Moffett 
One of the most difficult challenges for doctors treating women with infertility or recurrent miscarriage is that no cause is found in around 50 percent of cases...
20 December 2021 - by Manon Everard 
Endometrial scratching is currently being offered by 34 percent of IVF clinics in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, according to a latest survey...
13 December 2021 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
The first session at the Progress Educational Trust's annual conference asked whether laws need to be changed, and if so how, in light of recent scientific innovations and changing views of what constitutes a family...
21 June 2021 - by Sarah Norcross 
The Progress Educational Trust draws the attention of the UK government to five areas of fertility treatment which have far-reaching consequences for the health of women...
14 June 2021 - by Michaela Chen 
Newly released guidance from the UK Competition and Markets Authority, would allow couples to initiate legal proceedings against IVF clinics that have falsely guaranteed their success rates...
1 June 2021 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Some of the faulty embryos currently ruled out for use in IVF can self-correct and lead to healthy pregnancies, research has revealed..
1 June 2021 - by Sandy Starr 
The International Society for Stem Cell Research has published wide-ranging new guidelines, covering a number of contentious areas of research and clinical practice...
15 March 2021 - by Jen Willows 
Julia Chain has been appointed as the new chair of the UK's fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.