Page URL:

Event Review: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Open Meeting

19 July 2010
Appeared in BioNews 567

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Open Meeting

Organised by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

Glaziers Hall, 9 Montague Close, London Bridge, London SE1 9DD, UK

Wednesday 7 July 2010

'Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Open Meeting', organised by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Wednesday 7 July 2010

The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) held its open Authority meeting on Wednesday 7 July. The meeting discussed general advances in its work, received feedback from the Hampton Working Group and considered the data of compliance with multiple birth rate targets. The most pertinent and interesting presentation focused on feedback regarding the evaluation of the Donation Review.

At this interim point, four main points were raised for consideration by the Authority:

First, it was reported that the HFEA is prohibited under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFE Act) 1990 (as amended) from disclosing donor codes to the parents of donor conceived children. Having consulted legal advisers, it is apparent that the release of donor codes is not permitted under the HFE Act. It is not clear whether individual clinics are similarly precluded and therefore it was decided that the HFEA should seek clarification on this point to ensure that correct advice is given to all clinics.

Second, the upper age limit for sperm donors was examined in an attempt to reconcile the discrepancies between HFEA Code of Practice, which recommends the upper age limit be placed at 45 years of age, and professional body guidance which places the cap at 40. On the advice of lawyers, the Authority is aware that age restrictions that are imposed in the absence of good medical reason potentially qualify as age discrimination. While it is apparent that sperm quality does decrease with age, there is no statistically significant cut-off point at which sperm quality is so low as to qualify as good medical reason and therefore a fine balancing act is required to avoid a discriminatory policy. The Science and Clinical Advancement Advisory Committee (SCAAC) have therefore recommended that this be addressed by affording flexibility of decision making to each clinic, provided all participants are fully informed of the risks that accompany older sperm donation.

Third up for consideration was the matter of conditional donation. It was suggested that the HFE Act appears to permit conditional donation, but this has the potential to be discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010. The subject promoted lively debate amongst Authority members as to which, if any conditions, would be 'positive' rather than 'conditional'. The biggest conundrum they discussed was whether donors of a particular faith would be able to restrict the use of their gametes to recipients of the same faith. Consultations with the Equality and Human Rights Commission are currently ongoing, although it is likely that the outcome will be determined by legal advice. As the Human Tissue Act prevents the conditional donation of organs after death, it looks likely that this may also be applied to gametes.

Finally, the notion of intra-family donation was raised with the intention of imminent review due to the lack of current guidance. Two types of intra-family donation were brought to the members' attention: 'replacement', which simply replaces an infertile gamete with that of a family member and 'mixing', which involves the amalgamation of gametes of two members of the same family (brother and sister, for example). Although it was quickly pointed out that there are no known cases of the latter, and considerations for the welfare of the potential child would stop this mixing from taking place, there is no explicit prohibition in the HFE Act. It was suggested that an explicit ban on certain types of mixing ought to be advocated. More broadly, the topic raised a plethora of ethical issues including social and genetic concerns, potential coercion of donor consent, and the psychological impact on children of these unconventional familial ties and therefore a heavy emphasis has been placed upon counselling within fertility clinics until final decisions are made.

The next stage of the review procedure will involve a public consultation which will now not take place until January and March next year to result in a decisive Authority statement in May. However, with 'austerity' being the word of the day and in the face of new budget cuts and recruitment freezes, timescales may go awry as the future of the HFEA, like many other quangos, is precarious.

Donation review
HFEA |  19 July 2010
Open Authority meetings
HFEA |  7 July 2010
7 February 2011 - by Dr Neil Manson 
The donation of gametes and embryos must be done with the consent of the donor, otherwise important rights are breached. Valid consent must be voluntary and coercion can undermine voluntariness. But how is coercion defined? Coercion is where one or more parties force another party to act in a way that the coercing party desires, which means that it shares something with offers, incentives and persuasion, but differs by relying on the power of a credible threat....
16 August 2010 - by Professor Alison Murdoch 
The UK's new government plans to divide the responsibilities of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) between different existing organisations to reduce the cost and burden of regulation. This would see the end of the HFEA as we know it...
9 August 2010 - by Baroness Ruth Deech 
Of course we are all against unnecessary regulation: and one of the areas of policy put forward by the new coalition government which has seemed to attract widespread support, even from those who hold no brief for them, is the abolition of superfluous quangos....
26 July 2010 - by Dr Vivienne Raper 
The UK's fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), could be split up as the Government's 'bonfire of the quangos' continues....
26 July 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A fertility clinic in Spain is offering patients the option of using embryos 'left-over' from previous treatments without the donors' explicit consent, the Telegraph reports. The Instituto Marques clinic near Barcelona, which provides fertility treatment to foreign couples, runs an 'embryo adoption scheme'...
12 April 2010 - by Joanne Anton and Danielle Hamm 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) recently sought the views of the interested public in planning its work for the next year, in an event focusing on a range of ethical, social and legal issues around the future of fertility treatment...
15 May 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
At its open meeting held on 10 May in Belfast, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) announced that it will 'prepare a proper consultation programme' on oocyte (egg) donation so that it could assess the whole range of views and ethical issues that the...
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.