Following its initial approval in July 2003, the Spanish government has ruled that research will be allowed to take place on frozen-thawed human embryos, as long as they are donated for research purposes after being left over from fertility treatments. The Spanish parliament made a ruling on 16 October that will amend a law governing assisted reproduction passed in 1988. It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of embryos in frozen storage in Spain, because the law there has required clinics to keep supernumary embryos for five years, but has never specified what can be done with them after that time. Advocates for embryo research pushed for a change in the law so that these embryos could be used by scientists.
The new Spanish provisions will only allow research to take place on embryos stored in clinics before the newly-passed law comes into effect. Any embryos frozen and stored after this time will, according to the new law, remain frozen 'throughout the full fertility period of the woman'. Additionally, it will limit both the number of eggs that can be fertilised per cycle, and the number of resulting embryos that can be transferred, to three. IVF experts have criticised the new law on two grounds: that the number of successful IVF pregnancies is likely to be lower because of the limit on eggs that can be fertilised, and because the reforms will encourage fertility clinics to store as few embryos as possible. But Ana Pastor, the Spanish health minister, believes the new law will reduce the number of multiple pregnancies.The new Spanish law also says that a national bank will be established to 'manage and store' embryonic stem cell (ES cell) lines derived from the left over embryos. But last week, Francesco Vallejo Serrano, head of the health department of the Andalucian government, announced that the autonomous region (one of 17 in Spain) intends to set up its own bank of human ES cell lines using any embryos that have been stored for more than five years. He says this is possible because of a loophole in the 1988 law, which only bans research on 'viable embryos'. Serrano argues that embryos stored for more than five years are not viable and should therefore be accessible to researchers. Regional legislation was passed on 9 October to this effect. The Spanish national health ministry is challenging the regional legislation on the grounds that it is anticonstitutional.