Page URL:

Rise in 'selective reproduction' due to increase in IVF, experts say

9 January 2012
Appeared in BioNews 639

There has been a rise in the number of British women choosing to give birth to fewer children following multiple pregnancy, leading to renewed calls for restrictions on the number of embryos implanted during IVF.

Figures from the Department of Health show that in 2010, 85 women expecting multiple births opted to abort one or more fetuses while continuing with the pregnancy of at least one other – a so-called 'selective reduction'. This is an increase from 59 women in 2006, and has been attributed to the rise in couples turning to IVF in order to become pregnant.

During IVF several embryos are often implanted at the same time to increase the chances of pregnancy. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has endorsed a campaign for multiple birth minimisation and it mandates that each clinic has a strategy in place to reduce their incidence of multiple births.

According to the Telegraph, the HFEA reports that one-third of selective reductions involved pregnancies resulting from IVF. Figures available on the HFEA's website show just over 2,300 women receiving IVF or ICSI in 2006 had multiple births - defined as twins, triplets and higher order multiples - and it says in 2009 just under one-quarter of live births following IVF or ICSI in those aged 18 - 34 years were multiple.

Over 45,000 women received IVF or ICSI treatment in 2010 and there were 13,015 reported pregnancies following treatment started in 2010.

'I would be surprised if multiple pregnancy through fertility treatment was not a significant component to the increase in selective reductions', said Professor Richard Fleming, scientific director of the Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine.

'The more complicated multiple pregnancies lie almost exclusively in the IVF domain. It's a horrible decision to make but a very sensible one'.

Around three-quarters of selective reductions were conducted for medical reasons, with multiple pregnancy associated with premature birth and a higher risk of birth defects such as cerebral palsy and impaired vision.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: 'Over three-quarters, 78 percent, of the selective terminations were performed [for medical reasons] - that there is substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped 

'Multiple pregnancies are generally a greater risk to the mother and the babies. The risk is greater for twins than single babies but rises dramatically with three babies or more'.

Of the 85 women opting for a selective reduction in 2010, 51 reduced twins to a single baby, 20 reduced triplets to twins and nine women expecting triplets chose to give birth to one child. Five women gave birth to twins following pregnancy with four or five fetuses.

Dr Peter Saunders, from the Christian Medical Fellowship said: 'There is no doubt that the rising use of IVF has contributed to a rise in multiple pregnancies. If prospective parents are not willing to have twins then they should not be implanting more than one embryo at a time'.

The figures were obtained from the Department of Health under the UK's freedom of information laws.

100 babies aborted in Britain by women not wanting multiple births
Mid-day |  30 December 2011
Abortions to reduce multiple births on the rise
Telegraph |  28 December 2011
More women choosing 'selective reduction' abortions when pregnant with twins and triplets
Daily Mail |  30 December 2011
Selective abortion figures revealed
Press Association |  28 December 2011
11 November 2013 - by Dr Steven Fleming 
Despite the views of several IVF experts that intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection is overused in IVF, it continues unabated. So why is nobody listening?...
11 February 2013 - by Matthew Thomas 
Figures released by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority reveal the number of IVF cycles performed each year has continued to rise while the overall multiple pregnancy and birth rate has declined....
2 July 2012 - by Suzanne Elvidge 
A study estimates that five million people worldwide have been born thanks to assisted reproductive technologies...
8 May 2012 - by Dr Rebecca Hill 
The increase in birth defects in babies born after assisted conception could be partly due to underlying fertility problems, according to an Australian study...
13 February 2012 - by Nishat Hyder 
The rate of multiple births resulting from IVF treatment is to be no more than ten percent, announced the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), in the final stage of its policy to reduce IVF multiple birth rates in the UK....
19 December 2011 - by Mila Roode 
The consequences of assisted reproductive technology (ART) are a matter of great concern, whether this is the development of the embryo, the perinatal health of the mother, or the ongoing health of the child....
12 September 2011 - by Professor Vardit Ravitsky 
An up-and-coming technology will soon allow genetic testing of a fetus with a simple maternal blood test early in the first trimester of the pregnancy by isolating cell-free fetal DNA in the mother's plasma. Currently, obtaining reliable diagnostic genetic information requires invasive testing with Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis. Both carry a risk of miscarriage and are performed between weeks 10 and 20 of the pregnancy...
26 January 2009 - by Sandy Starr 
This month sees the coming into force of new regulations by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which seek to ensure that elective single embryo transfer (eSET) for women under 40 becomes standard practice in IVF treatment in the UK. Under these regulations, public and private fertility clinics...
13 February 2006 - by Dr John Gillott 
Baroness Kennedy, launching the Human Genetics Commission (HGC)'s new report, Making Babies: reproductive decisions and genetic technologies, said: 'Science, harnessed by society to prevent real suffering, is a social good. However, a culture which does not acknowledge that all humanity has a value, and that each one of us...
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.