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Defending life
from conception to natural death


British fertility clinics among the least successful in Europe

27 March 2006

British fertility clinics are among the least successful in Europe, according to a study by the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology. Only 28.6% of patients who undergo IVF in Britain become pregnant and British clinics also have the highest rate of complications in pregnancy caused by drugs used in the treatment. They also use the controversial procedure known as "foetal reduction" which involves implanting two embryos in the woman's womb and killing one by injection if both develop healthily. Karl Nygren, a professor of gynaecology in Stockholm, who put the statistics together, called the procedure "ethically unacceptable." The low success rate and the high cost of IVF clinics in Britain has led to many couples going abroad as so-called "fertility tourists" to have an operation where treatment is quicker, cheaper and less tightly regulated. [The Sunday Times, 26 March] One such couple is Wendy and Brian Duncan who travelled to India for fertility treatment because they were not eligible for it on the NHS and could not afford a private clinic. Mrs Duncan, 39, had six embryos implanted by a doctor in Mumbai: two of her own and four Indian babies. The legal limit in the UK is two. She gave birth to an Indian baby girl ten months ago. The couple have faced criticism from British health professionals who pointed out the severe risks to the health of the mother that could result from a multi-embryo implant as well as the ethical concerns involved. [The Observer, 26 March]

An Egyptian baby girl, who had a rare birth defect that resulted in her having a second head, has died from a brain infection. Manar Maged, aged ten months, was born with the highly unusual condition, craniopagus parasiticus. Her second head was believed by doctors to be incapable of independent thought, unconnected to any internal organs and unable to survive independently. Manar survived an operation to remove the second head in February but was left vulnerable to infections. [BBC News, 26 March]

The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has said that premature babies are "bed blocking" in Britain's hospitals. The College said in a consultation document that the "increasing tendency to try and rescue babies at lower and lower gestations" was taking up too much time and expense. The document was written as a report to the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, which is currently investigating whether babies born at under 25 weeks should be kept alive or left to die. The report recommended that the issue be looked at in financial terms: "Some weight should be given to economic considerations as there is a real issue in neo-natal units of "bed blocking"." Kelly Sowerby, who has had three premature babies, called the report a "heartless disgrace." She said, "Even if the odds were tiny I wanted to fight for my son to have a single chance of life." [Telegraph, 27 March]

The first "designer baby" clinic is to be set up in Britain and £6,000 is expected to be charged for each child. The clinic will offer screening for inherited genetic disorders such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis and embryos who are carrying the genes will be destroyed. Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said, "Paying £5 million for a state-of-the-art centre in order to eliminate more embryos with disabilities sounds like aggressive eugenics. We need to develop real cures for genetic diseases, not kill the carriers." [Telegraph, 26 March]

Cells from testicles could be an ethical alternative to embryonic stem cells for use in research, according to German scientists. A team of researchers from Georg August University in Gottingen found that sperm producing cells from the testes of mice could be made to grow into colonies very like embryonic stem cells. Professor Harry Moore, of the Centre for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Sheffield said, "The paper offers an intriguing route for future stem cell therapy which might overcome the use of embryos and cloning." [BBC News, 25 March]

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