[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 01:03 GMT
Checks on IVF parents simplified
Image of fertility treatment
The law requires doctors to consider the welfare of any IVF child conceived
People seeking fertility treatment will face fewer and faster checks to make sure they will be suitable parents under new guidelines.

Legally, clinics have to assess the welfare of any child born via fertility treatment before providing services.

Doctors and patients have argued the current UK guidance, which is 14 years old, is cumbersome and bureaucratic.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority says its revision makes the checks "clearer and fairer".

Equitable checks

No such checks and rules apply when a couple conceive naturally and there is no evidence to suggest that people who become parents through fertility treatment are any worse at raising children, argues the HFEA.

Indeed some argue they make more dedicated parents because they have been through so much in order to have a child.

The existing requirements of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 means that doctors have to ask would-be parents about their commitment to raise children and their ability to provide a stable environment for a child.

We will have a system that is fairer for patients and more proportionate for doctors while still protecting children's interests
HFEA chair Suzi Leather

The HFEA has scrapped these checks and instead says doctors should focus on other factors concerning welfare, such as mental and physical conditions affecting the parents' ability to care for the child.

As now, a history of serious drug or alcohol abuse and previous convictions related to harming children should also trigger alarm bells and prompt the doctor to do further checks.

A medical history that means the child could be born with a serious condition should also be explored.

Parents would have to consent to further checks, such as criminal records checks, being made before the clinic could continue with its assessment.

HFEA chair Suzi Leather said: "By focusing more clearly on the risk factors that could lead to serious harm, we will have a system that is fairer for patients and more proportionate for doctors while still protecting children's interests.

The HFEA made its revisions after consulting with the public.

Until now, many have felt that the assessment was intrusive and overly cautious
Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK

It says the onus to check such welfare matters should now lie with doctors working in fertility clinics, who should use their judgement about how many checks are needed - in the past it has been automatically expected of GPs to run the checks, and for every patient.

This often caused a great deal of unnecessary paperwork and delays, said the HFEA.

Angela McNab, chief executive of the HFEA, said: "Contacting the GP in every case is ineffective."

Many GPs had complained that they did not feel it was their role to comment on the social aspects and circumstances of their patients, such as their commitment to having a child.

The guidance also says that clinics should encourage parents using donor sperm or eggs to share this information with children at a young age.

A spokeswoman from the Donor Conception Network welcomed this advice saying that experience showed this was a good strategy.

Striking a balance

Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, said: "Most infertility patients totally understand the need for the welfare of the child to be taken into account.

"However, until now many have felt that the assessment was intrusive and overly cautious.

"By removing the need to contact the GP unless further investigations are felt necessary, the emotional journey through treatment for patients will be a smoother one.

"This new clearer guidance will help clinicians, will provide a fair and balanced system for patients, whilst still protecting the welfare of any children born as a result of treatment."

Dr Michael Wilks, chairman of the British Medical Association's medical ethics committee, said it was important to strike a balance between protecting children and unnecessary bureaucracy.

"In our view, this new guidance...succeeds in achieving this balance."

Professor Alison Murdoch, chair of the British Fertility Society, said: 'The 'Welfare of the Child' clause in the HFEA Act has always been a problem. The BFS is pleased that the HFEA is responding to concerns from both clinics and patients."

Have you had fertility treatment? Will you be affected by the changes? Share your thoughts and experiences by sending an e-mail using the form below.

Your E-mail address
Town & Country

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

How the changes will affect the process

Shake-up of IVF 'welfare' checks
13 Jan 05 |  Business
How fertility laws might change
16 Aug 05 |  Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific