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Importing and exporting sperm, eggs and embryos

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What is import and export?

‘Import’ refers to the process of moving sperm, eggs or embryos from a fertility clinic abroad to a licensed fertility clinic in the UK.

‘Export’ refers to the process of moving sperm, eggs or embryos from a licensed clinic in the UK to a fertility clinic abroad.

Import and export does not include the transfer of eggs, sperm or embryos between two licensed fertility clinics in the UK - if you wish to do this, you should speak to your fertility clinic about the process involved.

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Why would I want to import or export sperm, eggs or embryos?

When undergoing fertility treatment some patients will go to their local fertility clinic to access treatment options. Others however, may choose to import or export sperm, eggs or embryos.

For example:

  • You may have recently moved to the UK and wish to bring over your stored samples from a clinic abroad. Similarly, you may be planning to move abroad, and want to move your samples to a clinic overseas
  • You may be unable to get the type of donor you require for your treatment, and choose to use a non-UK donor for your fertility treatment in the UK (for example, a donor from a sperm bank in the USA or Denmark)
  • You may choose to go abroad for your treatment, and wish to send your stored samples to an overseas clinic. More information on the issues and risks of fertility treatment abroad.

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What is the procedure for importing or exporting?

Whilst you have a role to play in the process (for example, you may choose the donor abroad you wish to use, or have the details of the clinic abroad where your samples are stored), the fertility clinic in the UK where your samples are stored, or will be stored, also has a significant role to play. The UK clinic is responsible for ensuring that the import or export of samples is done safely and in line with the import/export requirements.

The HFEA sets out certain criteria that must be met before any import or export can take place. It is the responsibility of the UK fertility clinic to assess how a particular import or export meets these import/export requirements. It is only once the UK clinic is satisfied that the requirements have been met that the import or export can take place.  

You should be aware that not all clinics will import or export sperm, eggs or embryos, and those that do may have additional charges.

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What if the import or export does not meet the requirements?

Should you wish to import or export gametes or embryos, and your clinic is unable to show that the import/export is compliant with the import/export requirements, then your fertility clinic will need to make an assessment of whether to apply for ‘Special Directions’. Effectively, this is seeking special permission from the HFEA to allow the import or export to take place.

In doing so, they need to submit an application to the HFEA to explain how the particular import or export does not meet the requirements; why they consider it appropriate to allow the import or export to take place; and if there are any legal or human rights arguments that are relevant. Such applications are reviewed by the Statutory Approvals Committee.

You should speak to your UK fertility clinic for more details about how to go about making Special Direction applications. The decision of whether to submit a 'Special Direction' application rests with your clinic.

There is also guidance for licensed clinics about the Special Direction process.

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Page last updated: 30 April 2014