How should fertility clinics assess the welfare of children born through fertility treatment?

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is launching a wide public consultation into how clinics should protect the interests of children born through fertility treatment. The process includes public consultative meetings, discussions with particular groups – such as clinic staff and GPs – and the chance for anyone to provide suggestions for the future shape of the guidance.

The law sets out a broad framework which obliges clinics to make an assessment of the welfare of any child born before fertility treatment is provided. Working within this framework, the HFEA provides detailed guidance to clinics on what is required in this assessment.

The consultation ´Tomorrow's Children' will focus on three main areas:

  • The kind of enquiries to be made of prospective parents ? whether medical or social and which other professionals should be involved
  • The factors to be taken into account in the assessment ? whether these should include medical risks, physical risks, psychological risks and social factors
  • Whether patients undergoing different kinds of treatment need different assessment and information ? such as people using donor conception

Suzi Leather, Chair of the HFEA, said:

"The law sets out the important principle that, before any treatment is given, clinics must consider the welfare of any child who may be born as a result. Our job as the sector's regulator is to ensure that this is delivered in practice.

"There must be a reasonable, proportionate, fair and practical system that delivers an appropriate level of protection for children without unjustifiably hindering the treatment of people who need medical help in having a child.

"We have to strike a difficult balance between the interests of prospective parents and the needs of children."

Angela McNab, Chief Executive of the HFEA added:

"From speaking to patients and clinics we know that there are some specific areas in the current system where there is scope for improvement.

"By involving all the people concerned with the process, patients, offspring, clinics, other professionals and the wider public, we hope to learn more about what works well at the moment and where the system could be improved.

"We will use the results of this consultation to develop new guidance that will be in place by this summer. In this way we can ensure an effective, fair and consistent system across the sector that acts in everybody's best interests."

The consultation involves a number of different elements to ensure that we get the views of appropriate stakeholders. ´Tomorrows Children', sets out a number of possible options as well as inviting people to give their own views.

In addition, the HFEA will hold public events in Glasgow, Manchester and London in February and March. These meetings are aimed particularly at people working in clinics, patients, academics, lawyers and other groups to ensure that we learn from the experience of people involved in the system at the moment. We will also be speaking to a number of patient and professional organisations from Infertility Network UK to the British Fertility Society.


Notes to editors

The consultation ´Tomorrow's Children' is open to any member of the public or organisation in the UK. The formal consultation runs from 13 January 05 and the closing date for responses is 7 April 05.  People can obtain the consultation document through the HFEA website, by e-mailing or by calling the HFEA on 020 7291 8200.

This is the first thorough review of the guidance on Welfare of the Child assessment since the first HFEA Code of Practice was issued in 1991, though sections of the guidance has been expanded and amended over the years as techniques and practices have developed.

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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