On 27 April 2020 the Department of Health and Social Care announced that due to the potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on fertility patients, the current 10-year storage limit for embryos and gametes will be extended by two years. This follows the decision to temporarily suspend fertility treatment services in the UK on 15 April 2020 and it aims to provide sufficient time for fertility treatment to resume.
This will provide some much needed breathing space for fertility patients, some of whom are being severely affected by the temporary suspension of fertility treatment services in the UK. However, it does not represent a solution for all patients, particularly those requiring urgent fertility treatment due to age or rapidly declining fertility levels.
Health Minister, Lord Bethell, said:
“Many people rely on fertility treatment as their only hope to start a family and the current pandemic means some will have to put their hopes on hold.
We are taking steps to ensure during these extraordinary times, those that have embryos, sperm or eggs stored as part of their treatment are not unfairly caught out by the existing storage limits and have the best possible opportunity to start their family in the future.
I know for some people the pausing of services will be extremely worrying and we are constantly assessing when it will be appropriate to commence fertility services again while balancing the pressures of the pandemic on our NHS and workforce.”
The HFEA continues to discuss and consider how and when to re-start fertility treatment services in the UK. It states that any decision to resume treatment services will take into account the views of the British Fertility Society and the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists as well as the impact that resuming treatment would have on NHS services. It also needs to be assured that clinics are able to provide a safe service to patients and a safe working environment for clinic staff.
Fertility treatment law issues
Notwithstanding the extension of the 10-year UK storage period for gametes and embryos announced today, the temporary suspension of fertility treatment services due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continues to create all manner of legal and wider issues, including:
- Problems for women facing rapidly declining age-related fertility and loss of opportunity of fertility treatment and conception.
- Issues with storage and use of frozen eggs, sperm and embryos.
- Unexpected death of a loved-one and related issues associated with posthumous storage and use of eggs, sperm and embryos in fertility treatment.
- Greater focus on the options and legal issues associated with fertility preservation and maximisation.
- Uncertainty around availability of egg and sperm donors and surrogates.
- Delays in medical diagnosis and consequent treatment and associated impact on individual fertility.
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