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' whereby patients can adopt an embryo which has been left behind by couples who have not decided whether to donate it to other patients, to research, or to destroy it.
It is reported that the scheme, illegal under UK law that states patients must give specific consent as to how their embryos are used, is believed to be the first of its kind. The Telegraph reports the activity highlights the risk faced by fertility patients who travel abroad for treatment and are not fully informed about differences in the law.
The Telegraph estimates that, out of the 317 British couples treated at the Instituto Marques since 2004, 114 did not decide what was to be done with their spare embryos. These may have been adopted and used to successfully produce children without the donors' knowledge. These children would be genetic siblings of the original child and biologically related to the original couple, although they would not be considered its legal parents.
Explaining why the scheme was implemented, one of its authors, Dr Marisa López-Teijón, said couples who have already undergone fertility treatment sometimes find it 'easier' to 'ignore' their unneeded embryos. 'In this way, and despite the fact that the Spanish legislation on assisted reproduction offers all possible options in order to make a decision, we still find ourselves with hundreds of embryos that accumulate at our centre', she said.
Some commentators have expressed concern, however, that couples are unaware of the possibility that their embryos may be donated to further patients. Susan Seenan from Infertility Network UK said patients must familiarise themselves with differences in the law when choosing to travel abroad for fertility treatment.
She advises that: 'In this particular case perhaps patients may need to ensure that the clinic in question has in writing their express wishes as to what should happen to any spare embryos after they finish treatment'.
A spokesman for the Instituto Marques clinic said that, in total, 460 babies have been born worldwide through the embryo adoption scheme.