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Lords attack cross-generation embryo and gamete donation

25 October 2009
Appeared in BioNews 531

In a debate in the House of Lords of the UK parliament last week, Tory Lord Earl Howe criticised revised regulations that allow for embryos, sperm and eggs to be stored for up to 55 years for prematurely infertile parents. Previous legislation set the maximum storage time at ten years.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Statutory Storage Period for Embryos and Gametes) Regulations state that when one of the recipient parents of the embryo or gamete (egg or sperm) is prematurely infertile, the ten year time limit for storage of frozen embryos or gametes can be extended to up to 55 years. Previously, storage could only last until the provider of the embryo or gamete was 55 years old. This means that under the revised regulations, a child diagnosed to be infertile can receive her mother's eggs decades after they were frozen - at which time she will be at a normal childbearing age, regardless of whether or not the mother is over 55 years of age by this time.

Lord Howe raised concerns about the 'confused genetic identity' of the prospective child in this scenario, as its mother would genetically be its (half) sister, and the donator of the egg or embryo would simultaneously be the child's genetic mother and its social grandmother. Lord Patten, the former Tory Education Secretary supported this, saying that he 'dislike[d] intensely the thought of scrambling the generations'.

Defending the changes, Labour fertility expert Professor Lord Winston expressed his fear that patients will go overseas for similar treatments if they are prohibited here. He also stressed that longer freezing times are not likely to produce a health risk. Baroness Thornton, representing the Government, argued that the changes are beneficial to 'real people in very difficult circumstances' as it gives women who are infertile at a young age the opportunity to have children that are 'genetically linked' to them. She also said that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is 'considering the issue of inter-generational donation and the guidance it needs to provide to clinics'.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Statutory Storage Period for Embryos and Gametes) Regulations 2009
Lords Hansard |  21 October 2009
23 October 2009 - by Sarah Norcross 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Storage Period for Gametes and Embryos) Regulations 2009 came into force on 1 October 2009 under negative Parliamentary procedure. Soon after, however, a prayer was moved for the regulations to be annulled and a debate took place on 21 October 2009 in the House of Lords....
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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