Fertility treatment and parenting: a quantum shift?

Increasing numbers of people are using surrogacy, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and egg and sperm donation to build families and many will cross borders in the process. People now have more choice than ever before about the creation of their family and this is changing the character and identity of family life and parenting in the UK.

Growing numbers of people are  choosing to cross borders to access reproductive treatment, motivated by cost considerations, greater availability of donor eggs and sperm abroad and permissive legislation which in some foreign destinations endorses surrogacy on a commercial basis.

Families created through surrogacy, donor conception and fertility treatment  have a unique family history and identity all of their own.  Parents have often struggled hard to achieve their much wanted families and many will become parents later in life, often against a backdrop of  unsuccessful treatment, unexplained infertility and miscarriage.  Increasing numbers of families created in these ways will also involve known donors, co-parenting arrangements and solo mothers.

Fertility treatment and family building raises all manner of legal issues, including  immigration and citizenship considerations, donor information rights, acquisition of parental status and the need for carefully crafted parenting plans and agreements for those families involving known donors and co-parents.

Fertility, infertility and parenting: is fertility preservation for women the way forward?

Increasing numbers of women in the UK are postponing plans to have a family. Instead, many women are prioritising a foothold on the property ladder, career progression and consolidation of their financial positions and relationships.

The average age of new mothers in the UK is now 30 years, whilst women are at their most fertile aged 20-25 years. Half of all women undergoing IVF in the UK are over 35 years and functional infertility becomes a reality for many women from around age 40.

Women can struggle to conceive later in life and their journey to parenthood can be difficult and fraught with anxiety and disappointment.  Some will also have to face the painful reality that they will never carry a successful pregnancy or have their own biological child (although surrogacy and egg donation can offer hope and can create a much wanted family when natural conception or IVF treatment using their own eggs is no longer a possibility).

As women delay having a family until later in life, this increases the numbers of only children and these offspring are themselves more likely to go on to become older mothers themselves and have only one child of their own.  This raises continued concerns about a perceived ‘generation gap’ and a shrinking UK population that has to support ever increasing numbers of retired people.

The effects of these changing social trends on women’s fertility and family building plans in the UK therefore raises important issues.  It  begs lots of questions, including should we be doing more to preserve women’s fertility and should egg freezing for women be given greater consideration in the UK?  Science and technology has moved on and there has been significant improvements in egg freezing techniques over the last three years. Spain has become particularly successful at egg freezing and thawing and in some cases can require as little as five thawed eggs to establish a pregnancy. Egg freezing avoids the creation of frozen embryos (with the ethical concerns this can raise) and can preserve a women’s ability to have a biological child of her own in future or complete her family, when her biological clock may otherwise have run out.

Women face increasingly difficult life choices in the UK, having to balance economic concerns, relationships and the constraints of their biological and fertility clock.  For growing numbers of women, having a family is perceived to be the last piece of the jigsaw and this delay may prove fatal in terms of their ability to have or complete their family naturally. Egg freezing may offer some breathing space and hope for women who may otherwise not be able to fulfill their hopes and dreams of having a family, although it raises a number of potentially sensitive issues.  Overall, there is still much to be done in the UK to raise awareness of the issues surrounding fertility (and its preservation), infertility and the importance of planning for parenthood.

UK Donor Link wins temporary reprieve

The UK Donor Link (UKDL) has won a temporary funding reprieve, following the award of a further government grant up until the end of March 2012 while more permanent funding is sought. This has enabled UKDL to re-open its doors to new registrants on 15 September 2011 (having previously closed to new registrants on 26 August 2011 due to lack of funds).

In a letter  to UKDL dated 5 September 2011 the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, Anne Milton, said “I am keen for options to be considered in the next few months, bearing in mind the difficulties that have been encountered in sorting out a more settled future for the register.” The UKDL has set up an ePetition calling on the government to restore its funding to safeguard the service and it remains highly concerned about its uncertain funding position.

UKDL enables donor conceived people, their donors and half-siblings to exchange information and where agreed contact each other. The register is available throughout the UK and helps individuals who were conceived with donor gametes and donors who donated before the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act came into force in 1991.

As a specialist in fertility and parenting law in the UK, “I am delighted that UKDL has secured a temporary funding reprieve until March 2012.  However, there is a real need for longer term funding to be put in place to safeguard the invaluable service UKDL provides, enabling donor conceived individuals and donors to access information about their genetic origins and make contact with genetic relatives  when they might not otherwise be able to do so (as donors were usually anonymous and there was no legal requirement to maintain records before August 1991).  If UKDL is forced to close next year due to lack of funding it could have devastating consequences for donor conceived people and donors across the UK and it would be a serious retrograde step and an immeasurable loss to the fertility sector.”

Fertility law, donor conception and surrogacy: Reproductive Medicine 2011

I am delighted to be speaking at Reproductive Medicine 2011 tomorrow on fertility law, donor conception and surrogacy.

Fertility law, donor conception and surrogacy are evolving and cutting edge areas of law.  They can raise complex legal issues for fertility patients, clinicians and professionals, who increasingly need to grapple with recent changes in law, the growth of alternative family structures (including solo mothers, known donation and co-parenting arrangements), complex relationship situations and the restrictions and legal pitfalls associated with surrogacy law.

For more information about fertility law, donor conception and surrogacy please contact me by email lghevaert@vardags.com.