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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 May 2006, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Bid to save couple's IVF embryos
Martin Hymers and Michelle Hickman
Martin and Michelle badly want more children
A private IVF clinic is breaching its licence by storing a couple's fertilised embryos past the time they should have been destroyed.

Under UK law unused embryos created for surrogacy must be destroyed after five years have elapsed.

Martin Hymers and Michelle Hickman, from Heaton Chapel, Greater Manchester, have six such embryos.

They are applying to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to transfer the embryos abroad.

In the meantime, their clinic, Manchester Fertility Services, has agreed to store the embryos - even though under the law the embryos should have been destroyed on Monday.

Negotiations are continuing with the HFEA, and a fertility clinic in Belgium, which is considering taking the embryos.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I don't see why embryos shouldn't be stored indefinitely
Simon Kitson, UK

The couple's ordeal began when Miss Hickman was pregnant with their son Robert, now six.

Doctors predicted he would be a big baby so suggested she have a caesarean.

Hysterectomy

The operation went as planned but complications set in and despite her protestations, Miss Hickman's uterus was removed.

Martin, Michelle and Robert
The couple have a six-year-old son

The couple underwent IVF treatment to store embryos, which they hoped they could use to have a child through a host surrogate mother.

However, they have been unable as yet to find a woman who could act as a surrogate. Friends volunteered, but were unsuitable on health grounds.

The five year limit on storage of the first batch of embryos has now elapsed. A second batch of seven embryos are due to be destroyed next year.

The couple believe the law is unfair, as embryos created for any other use can be kept for ten, rather than five, years.

Both the medical profession and fertility watchdogs agree the discrepancy in the law is unfair and have suggested it be changed.

Legal review

This could happen after the government's review of the HFEA act, which is currently underway. However, any changes will not take place until 2008 - which will be far too late for Michelle and Martin.

They have got enough problems as it is without having to deal with some anomaly in the law
Dr Brian Lieberman

The couple's only option now is to try to store the embryos overseas, potentially bringing them back after the law is changed.

Miss Hickman said it had proved extremely difficult to find a volunteer to act as host surrogate, as there was a lot of time and commitment involved. It was also illegal to advertise for a surrogate in the UK.

She said the five year time limit on use of embryos for surrogacy made no sense.

"There is just no logic to it at all. Why would you discriminate against people like that? For host surrogacy you need more time.

"I can't image that people who are able to do egg retrieval prior to cancer undergo their cancer treatment, then find a surrogate and have all their children within five years - you can't do it.

"We didn't have to go through all the trauma of cancer, but we haven't sat back for the last six years and just waited to the last minute to say can we find a surrogate.

"We have been actively trying every legal possibility that we can in this country, and we have just been unsuccessful."

Part of the family

Miss Hickman said she just could not bear to see her embryos destroyed.

"We cannot do that to them. They might not be in our home, but they are part of our family. We just cannot abandon them."

Dr Brian Lieberman, of Manchester Fertility Services, said the clinic was determined to store the embryos until an alternative was found.

He said the current law was "manifestly wrong" and "illogical".

"It is very unfair that there is a time pressure put on them. They have got enough problems as it is without having to deal with some anomaly in the law."

James Healy, a HFEA spokesman, said the authority had raised the issue with the government as one that needs reconsidering.

He said: "The only current option that the law would allow would be for the couple to take their embryos out of the country for treatment elsewhere."




SEE ALSO:
Reprieve for IVF couple's embryos
08 May 06 |  Manchester
IVF couple in race against time
01 May 06 |  Manchester
NHS to offer one free IVF cycle
25 Feb 04 |  Health


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