16 August 2005

The British Fertility Society (BFS)1, on behalf of its members – health professionals in the field of fertility services and reproductive medicine – welcomes the decision to review the legislation governing assisted fertilisation in the UK.

IVF was first developed in Britain, and our members are often at the leading edge of research and development in the field. The status of assisted conception has changed dramatically since the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was introduced in 1990; it has now become an accepted medical treatment and is one of the most rapidly developing fields of medicine.

Some assisted conception techniques in common use today (e.g. ICSI) were not developed until after the original act was introduced. We believe that the legislative basis for fertility treatment now needs a thorough review to reflect the changes in this rapidly developing field of medicine.

The BFS believes that the review of the act needs to consider such issues as:

  • The selection and screening of embryos – with increased knowledge of human genetics a review is needed of the extent to which human embryos can be screened during IVF procedures.
  • Gamete donation and unregulated internet based services – this is of particular concern to members who have worries about the safety of such operations.
  • Regulation and the role of the HFEA – many members feel that there is scope for a relaxation in the level of regulation leaving doctors and patients to make more autonomous decisions.
  • The retention and use of clinical data – the current legislation is too restrictive and inhibits the proper use of data in research studies into infertility and its treatment.
  • Welfare of the Child – there is concern that the current requirements potentially discriminates against the infertile couple

Alison Murdoch, Chair of the British Fertility Society, said: “ The HFEA Act has served us well during the early days of IVF and associated treatments. The UK has led the world in how to regulate this aspect of medicine. However, society has changed and the concerns of 15 years ago are not the same as they are today.”

“A thorough review of the Act will set the framework for the next generation of children. It is vital that regulation ensures good clinical practice and does not hinder us in our aim to help couples to have healthy babies. We also need a strong legal framework to ensure that UK scientists can perform the kind of research which may lead to real benefits to patients in the future.”

Allan Pacey, Honorary Secretary of the Society said: “The BFS will be happy to work to assist in developing this legislation. We will consult our members to help us provide the government and the Department of Health with the views of the professionals working in the field.”