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Tuesday, 7 August, 2001, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
Action to cut IVF multiple births
embryo
Only two embryos may be put into the womb
Fertility clinics in the UK have been told to reduce the number of fertilised embryos they implant into women in a bid to reduce twin and triplet births.

From now on, even though doctors may remove and fertilise as many eggs as they can, only a maximum of two embryos can be transferred into the womb unless there are exceptional circumstances.

This virtually eliminates the chance of triplets, and substantially reduces the chances of twins.

Fertility doctors want to avoid multiple births because they increase the chances of premature birth, low birth weight, still birth and long term disability.

IVF
Doctors try to create several useable embryos
Women also face an increased risk of severe, and possibly life-threatening complications.

Professor Ruth Deech, who chairs the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which has introduced the new rules, says they will not reduce the chances of having a child.

She said: "In most cases, replacing more than two embryos does not increase the chance of having a baby but can substantially increase the risk of a multiple birth.

Exceptions

"We have been working closely with clinics for many years to reduce the number of multiple births and many centres are now transferring a maximum of two embryos."


The aim of infertility treatment should be delivery of a single healthy child

Professor Allan Templeton, Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Much older women, and those with conditions such as polycystic ovaries may fall into the "exceptional" category which could allow the implantation of three embryos instead of two.

But many fertility experts are angry that in some cases, the upper ceiling cannot be raised further, saying this is the only way to give much older patients a realistic chance of conceiving.

The move from three to two embryos brings the regulations in line with current best practice in both the UK and Europe.

In fact, many clinics are now only transferring a single embryo into younger women - with no apparent drop in birth rates.

Professor Allan Templeton, from the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said: "The aim of infertility treatment should be delivery of a single healthy child, and several clinics here and abroad are now looking seriously at replacing only one embryo per transfer."

A spokesman for CHILD, the infertility association, said that families undergoing fertility treatments in the private sector might even be trying to maximise the chance of twins because they could not afford another course of treatment, and called for more provision on the NHS.

Clare Brown, its Executive Director, said "The problems surrounding multiple births have been concerning CHILD for a long time.

"Given that the success rates in most cases is almost the same irrespective of whether two or three embryos are replaced it seems most sensible and safest, for both parent and the unborn child, to minimise the chances of a multiple birth."

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sue Nelson
"The policy change is to reduce the numbers of multiple births and the risks"
Dr Mohamed Taranissi, Fertility specialist
"You cannot have one single rule and expect this to apply to everybody"
Jane Denton, Human Fertilisation & Embryology Auth.
"Evidence does show putting two back reduces the triplet rate"
See also:

23 Feb 01 | Health
20,000 for extra IVF baby
03 Jul 01 | Fertility conference 2001
UK trailing on IVF access
02 Jul 01 | Fertility conference 2001
IVF twin threat questioned
10 Jul 01 | Health
Fertility: a regulatory minefield
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