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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Embryo campaigners head for court
Fertility procedures
Fertility doctors can currently only transfer three embryos
A clinic is going to court to win the right to increase the numbers of IVF embryos implanted in an older woman patient.

This runs contrary to current guidance from the authority which regulates fertility clinics in the UK.

At present, no more than three fertilised embryos can be implanted, to reduce the risk of dangerous triplet or quadruplet births.

However, women in their 40s have a substantially reduced chance of conceiving if this few embryos are transferred.

The case is being brought by the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre, a London clinic, on behalf of a 46-year-old patient who has had eight previous failed IVF attempts using three embryos.

Clinical judgement

The High Court will decide on Tuesday whether it is acceptable for five embryos to be transferred.

Clinic director Mr Mohamed Taranissi told BBC News Online: "We say that it should be left to the clinical judgement of the doctors involved as to how many embryos are transferred.

Mohamed Taranissi
Mohamed Taranissi wants the right to select embryo numbers
"The statistics are clear. At this age, there is virtually no chance of a multiple birth in these circumstances.

"In the UK, we have never had a multiple birth for a woman of age 47 or above."

The main argument in favour of the guideline is that a laissez-faire system would be open to abuse by rival clinics, particularly as a large proportion of fertility treatment is paid for privately, and league tables of success rates are published year by year.

The implantation of more than three embryos in a younger woman vastly increases the risk of triplets or more.

Blanket ban

Mr Taranissi said: "This should not be the reason for a blanket ban.

"We have to start by assuming that the system will not be abused - then, if it is abused by any particular clinic, action can be taken by the regulator."

The use of more than three embryos in older women, or those who have had several successive IVF failures is common practice in other countries such as the US.

Other ways of "getting around" the guidelines, from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in the UK, include Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer (Gift).

This technique involves inserting unfertilised eggs, and sperm, into the fallopian tubes, and is not currently covered by guidance, so in theory any number of eggs could be used.

A spokesman for the HFEA said that their current guidance, in allowing for three embryos to be transferred, was actually more flexible than advice from the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and British Fertility Society, which recommends only two.

He said: "We've always been concerned about the number of multiple births following IVF. We have taken advice from the professional bodies about this, and review our guidance from time to time."

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See also:

31 Mar 99 | Medical notes
IVF
21 Dec 98 | Medical notes
Multiple births and fertility treatment
31 Dec 99 | Health
IVF 'no better than insemination'
11 Jul 00 | Background Briefings
The future of fertility
03 Oct 00 | Health
Legal fight over IVF embryos
16 Nov 00 | Health
Triplets mother wins IVF case
06 Mar 01 | Health
Rise of the 'fertility tourist'
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