Race against time to implant embryos

LAWS that force IVF clinics to destroy frozen embryos after 10 years should be scrapped, according to the first national study into the impact of regulations surrounding reproductive technology.

Researchers from the University of Technology found that fertility patients have felt coerced into destroying their potential offspring since the NSW government placed a 10-year limit on storing frozen embryos created with donated gametes - either ova or sperm.

At least one Sydney clinic is defying the laws, fearful of destroying the future families of their patients.

Professor Jenni Millbank, the lead author of the report, said many couples whose embryos had been created with donated gametes were caught out by the Assisted Reproductive Technology Act, which was enacted in 2008.

The clock on storage started when the egg or sperm were obtained, which was sometimes years before the embryo was formed.

''There was one couple who weren't able to use their embryos,'' Professor Millbank said. ''They were very angry and distressed.''

The medical director of IVF Australia, Peter Illingworth, said clinics were placed in an invidious position when it suddenly become an offence for clinics not to destroy embryos if the time limit expired on embryos created with donated gametes.

''It's been a huge problem,'' Associate Professor Illingworth said.

''The last thing we want to do is dispose of embryos just because we've lost touch with people. We had a terrible situation where that went wrong and, as a consequence, we never dispose of embryos unless we get someone to tell us they don't want to keep them.''

The report, to be circulated to health ministers early next year, calls for a radical rethink of the way reproductive technology is governed and makes 56 recommendations on how to shift the focus of regulations from being prohibitive to user-oriented.

It recommends that all states increase the storage limit on frozen embryos to 10 years, with the ability to extend it for a further 10 years.

More than 350 people were interviewed for the report.

Many were troubled by what would happen to unused embryos, even if they had no plans to extend their families. ''We have two more frozen embryos and while we accept that we will probably dispose of them one day … it will be a hard decision to make on an emotional level given that two of that 'batch' of embryos have become our son and daughter,'' one participant said.

One NSW participant, whose son was conceived with donor sperm, said the imposition of storage limitations meant she may have to return for fertility treatment before she was ready.

''It's effectively putting this added pressure on us to succeed as soon as we can and putting this limit on how long we can actually try to have our family,'' she said.

A spokeswoman from the NSW Health Department said the legislation was due for review mid-next year.

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