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Dr Brian Lieberman
"We have been victims of our own success"
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Friday, 14 April, 2000, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Thousands of embryos 'wasted'

Thousands of embryos have been destroyed
Huge numbers of embryos are being needlessly destroyed each year, according to researchers.

These could be used either for further attempts to conceive - or be donated to other women with fertility problems, they say.

They could also, more controversially, be used in medical research, if the parents' permission was obtained.

The law says that frozen embryos must be thawed and destroyed after five years.

However, if written permission is gained from the parents, the deadline can be extended a further five years.

Research at two fertility centres in Manchester, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that more than 900 embryos had to be destroyed after five years, many simply because the parents did not respond to efforts to contact them.

In some cases, the embryos were destroyed even though the couple had not yet managed to conceive.

In all, 67% of the stored embryos had to be destroyed on the first deadline date.

Change procedures

The proportion of couples who failed to respond was significantly higher in the private clinic, and cost may be a factor which prevents childless couples using frozen - or cryopreserved - embryos in future conception attempts.

Dr Brian Lieberman, who led the study, said that simple changes in hospital procedures could cut the number of embryos which had to be destroyed.

"We are extremely concerned at the high rate of embryo destruction highlighted by this study.

"Increased counselling is an urgent priority for those couples with embryos already in storage.

"Donation of embryos to other infertile couples or for research should be discussed actively with those who don't require their embryos for treatment purposes.

"As so many couples fail to maintain contact with the centres, consent to use cryopreserved embryos for donation or research must be discussed in detail prior to their storage".

The destruction of more than 3,000 embryos in 1996 - the first deadline since the law was introduced in 1991 - provoked deep anger among pro-life groups.

Professor Ian Craft, the director of the London Fertility Centre, said it was "profoundly sad" when embryos had to be destroyed, since they could potentially be used to help other childless couples.

"Perhaps we should do a little more to suggest to people that their embryos, with their permission, could help other people who have fertility problems just like them.

"There are a number of complex reasons why people choose not to prevent their embryos being destroyed.

"But if people are not going to reply to our letters, then they are going to have to be destroyed."

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31 Mar 99 | Medical notes
06 Apr 00 | Health
Experts back embryo research
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