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Cheshire woman may lose frozen embryos under new laws

10 July 2009
Appeared in BioNews 516

A woman from Cheshire may have her frozen embryos destroyed once the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 comes into force on 1st October 2009 because of new laws on storage. Michelle Hickman stored eleven embryos following a hysterectomy that left her unable to carry her own children. However, because they were stored over five years ago, the new Act requires them to be either destroyed or removed to another country. It is the last time Mrs Hickman and her husband, Martin, are able to have children of their own.

At present, women who decide to freeze their embryos but also require a surrogate may do so only for a maximum of five years. For women who are able to carry their own child an extension of this time may be applied for and in this particular case, because of exceptional circumstances, Mrs Hickman was able to extend the storage time beyond five years. However, under the new law, although women who require surrogates will be given equal rights to those who are able to carry their own child and will be allowed to extend the storage period by up to 55 years as with, this will not apply to women whose embryos have already been frozen beyond five years by 1 October.

'Everybody else will benefit by being able to store their embryos for 55 years, however, in our case, because the storage is out of date at the moment, we will not benefit from the change in the law,' said Mrs Hickman. 'We would like a large family - probably about four children. We could not afford a surrogate in America.'

Many women decide to freeze their embryos before undergoing treatment for cancer which can cause infertility. Mrs Hickman is spearheading a campaign with a group called 'A Little Wish' to change the law before 1 October. Another member of the group, who froze her embryos before starting cancer treatment, was advised by doctors to not undergo fertility treatment for at least five years in case of the cancer reoccurring. Once she was given the all clear the time limit on the storage of her embryos had expired.

Although Mrs Hickman already has two children of her own, this is her last chance of completing their desire to have a larger family. A spokesman for the Department of Health said, 'We deeply sympathise. That is why we have changed the law. Unfortunately, it is not in time to help in this case.'

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16 November 2009 - by Nishat Hyder 
A couple from County Derry in Northern Ireland have taken legal action to halt the destruction of their embryos, currently being stored at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital, Belfast....
14 September 2009 - by Natalie Gamble 
Any visitors to the Bionews website may have come across a very different version of this commentary last week, published the day before the UK's Department of Health suddenly announced changes to the law last Wednesday. In a surprise last-minute u-turn, the government announced that it was taking urgent Parliamentary action to widen the scope of the new embryo storage laws due to come into force in less than three weeks' time....
14 September 2009 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The UK Government has introduced changes to allow individuals whose embryos have been frozen for over five years before the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act 2008 comes into force on 1 October 2009 to store them for longer. Before the changes were made, the Act stipulated that such embryos must be destroyed, but Health Minister Gillian Merron stepped in to make a supplementary provision to the Act to extend the time limit for storage to a total of ten years....
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