Clinics should warn patients about the increased risk of birth defects for children conceived using fertility treatment, say the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
The HFEA, the body which regulates all UK fertility treatment centres, is planning to release new guidelines. They will ask clinics to inform people seeking treatment about the association between birth defects and assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as IVF.
Health problems including low birth weight and neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy are more likely to occur in children conceived through fertility treatment, although the increase is only slight.
The overall risk associated with fertility treatments is small, however. Previous estimates from the HFEA indicate that the risk of developing birth defects increases from a general population level of 2 percent to 2.6 percent with fertility treatment. After a comprehensive review, the HFEA is updating its guidelines on patient information to reflect current scientific research on the possible side effects of ART.
According to the Sunday Times, the HFEA believes that: ‘The birth defects issue is certainly something that clinics should talk to their patients about. At the moment there is not anything in the code of practice [on the subject]. There is an intention to tell patients about possible health risks... so they can make informed choices about their treatment’.
Individual procedures may carry specific warnings under the new guidelines. For example, couples who choose to have ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) - a procedure of particular use in the treatment of male fertility problems - are already told that this procedure may result in children with a higher risk of infertility.
The HFEA now believes that clinics should also warn patients who choose to have embryos screened for disease-associated genetic defects, because the screening process can increase the risk of brain disorders in any resulting children.