´We must not play lottery with future generations' - public concerns show need for independent fertility regulation as great as ever, says HFEA

The public concerns and future developments which underpin the need for ongoing independent regulation of fertility treatment and research will be spelt out in a keynote speech by Angela McNab, Chief Executive of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, at the HFEA's annual conference today (15 March).

Drawing on the conference's theme of ‘Looking to the future', Angela will examine the technological and professional challenges of future developments in fertility treatment and show how independent regulation delivers safety, improvement and information for patients.

She will warn that ‘We must not play lottery with future generations' and warn of the danger of ‘untold heartache and damaged lives' if the risks in fertility treatment are not managed properly.

Angela will also explain the progress in the HFEA's modernisation programme to deliver a responsive, risk-based and proportionate system that is fit for the challenges of the future.

Angela will tell delegates:

"Though there is widespread knowledge and acceptance of fertility treatment the public are still concerned about what goes on and the potential consequences of treatment techniques. Even though the concept is established, there is little ‘standard' about IVF with new technologies evolving all the time.

"We must not stand in the way of the development of new technologies and new techniques which could bring real benefits for people seeking treatment. But we must make sure these are objectively regulated

"Experienced clinicians often profoundly disagree on the safety and suitability of new treatments, with experienced clinicians such as Lord Winston expressing grave doubts about techniques such as embryo freezing,

"Yet we know that couples families and society overall can have confidence in complex new developments  because independent specialist regulation exists. It supports the drive for progress but stops reckless acceleration."

Angela also talks about the ethical challenges that scientific developments present.

"The ethical judgements are not reducing, with each new scientific leap they increase. In the last year alone we have seen dilemmas about 59-year-old mothers, what happens to stored embryos when couples split up, the appropriateness of importing eggs from poorer countries, genetic testing and selection of embryos and anxieties about the legitimacy of immunological treatments which can cost more than £1000 alone.

"In parts of the world where there is no fertility regulation, major incidents and concerns are leading countries to set up independent regulators.

"We believe parliament should set the principles for the ethical framework to apply in this area and that the HFEA should implement those principles in response to the day-to-day situation brought up by fertility treatment. This would ensure a democratically-led, statue-based and professionally-applied system."

And Angela highlighted the risks in fertility treatment if things were to go wrong through lack of proper oversight.

"In any field of life mistakes do happen, But in the field of assisted reproduction they potentially have a major impact that could last for the whole of a person's life.

"Failure to check and scrutinise the safety of new technologies could be catastrophic and cause untold heartache and damaged lives. Specialist regulation supports quality and, recognising professional integrity and knowledge, carries out checks independently to ensure safety is the key objective."


Notes to editors

The HFEA was set up in August 1991 as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The HFEA's principal tasks are to license and monitor clinics that carry out in vitro fertilisation (IVF), donor insemination (DI) and human embryo research. The HFEA also regulates the storage of gametes (eggs and sperm) and embryos.

For further information please contact the HFEA press office.

Page last updated: 11 March 2009

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