Crisis in UK Fertility Treatment
One in six couples has difficulty getting pregnant when they want to. Fifty or a hundred years ago, this meant that while many families were large, with 6, 7 or more children, some couples had to accept that they would be childless, or maybe have an only child after years of trying. Today, things are different. Women are delaying starting their families until they are much older – in their late 30s in many cases – when fertility has declined naturally. Far more than one in six couples may be affected but, once they realise that there is a problem, it’s no longer necessary to accept childlessness. Various infertility treatments are available that can help – including in vitro fertilisation. This procedure made the headlines when it was first done successfully in 1978 but now there are nearly 14 000 successful IVF pregnancies each year in the UK, generated by 46 829 cycles of IVF treatment.
IVF Demand Puts Pressure on UK ServicesThe increased demand for all infertility treatments but particularly IVF has put great pressure on UK fertility clinics, who often struggle to cope with the sheer numbers of people wanting treatment. Some people who work in the service think that this have reached crisis point. Some regions of the country can get some cycles of IVF treatment on the NHS but many end of paying huge amounts of money to achieve their much-wanted pregnancy. Around 80% of all IVF cycles are funded privately in the UK. The result of this increased pressure is a shortage of eggs and sperm that are donated for infertility treatment for couples who are unable to supply their own.
Issues with Egg DonorsIt has been hotly debated for some time whether egg and sperm donors get fair compensation for their donations. Sperm and egg donors are currently paid the same amount – just to cover their expenses. This is inherently unfair to women who donate eggs as this process is much more difficult, painful and time consuming than turning up at a clinic and spending half an hour donating sperm. Women who donate eggs have to take fertility drugs to boost egg production and ensure that several eggs mature at once. Harvesting the eggs is then a fairly invasive procedure and a woman can then need several days to recover before being able to return to work.
In the USA, egg donors can be paid several thousand dollars and it is being suggested that more money be offered to potential UK egg donors to make the process more worthwhile. The intention is not to allow women to make excessive amounts of money – but rather than to compensate their fairly and so encourage more women to come forward as donors.
Issues with Sperm DonorsThe problem with sperm donors is slightly different. Since legislation was introduced to remove donor anonymity, many people feared that this would put men off becoming sperm donors. The prospect of their children turning up years later could be worrying, but there is no evidence that this has actually happened. Sperm donations have actually gone up in the last few years.
Part of the reason that sperm donations cannot meet demand is the current laws that restrict the number of times a sperm sample can be used. At the moment, sperm from a single donor can only be used in 10 procedures. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has recently put forward the possibility that it might increase this to 20, so that the sperm donations that are received can be used in more procedures. Opponents to this make the point that, if sperm are used in IVF cycles that result in twins, this change will make it possible for one man to ‘father’ 40 children.
It has also come to light recently that, rather than all sperm being used the currently allowed 10 times, they may be used far less as the record keeping used by sperm banks and clinics is not as good as it should be. Many don’t use the same sample because they aren’t sure whether they have reached the maximum limit of 10. Better record keeping might ease the situation, without a change in the law.