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Research needed into effects of IVF

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7240.960/a (Published 08 April 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:960
  1. Peter Moore
  1. London

    More research is needed to understand how to honour the commitment made by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act to take into account “the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of [infertility] treatment,” a one day conference in London decided last week. The conference was organised by the pressure group Comment On Reproductive Ethics.

    Speaking at the conference, Jane Denton, director of the Multiple Births Foundation, said that almost all the research into assisted reproduction had concentrated on the needs and dilemmas of the parents. Scant attention had been paid to the children born as a result of treatment. Given that a higher proportion of multiple births accompanied fertility treatments, she was particularly concerned with the practical and social needs of twins and triplets. “We would like to see a follow up study that is similar to the 1990 study called Three, Four and More [carried out into multiple births across the country by the Office of Populations Censuses and Surveys and researchers from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge], she said. “This time it should include twins.” But Mr Hossam Abdalla, codirector of the fertility and endocrine clinic at the Lister Hospital, London, was anxious that the desire to reduce the number of multiple births should not lead to a blanket ban on the ability to implant three embryos in a woman. He claimed that in some clinical situations the chance of having a baby was substantially increased by using three embryos. Limiting the number of embryos that could be implanted because of the fear of multiple pregnancies would deny some women the chance of a child. Studies that have sought to determine the effects of different aspects of reproductive treatment on the resulting children have had conflicting results. Professor Susan Golombok, of the Family and Child Psychology Research Centre at City University, London, presented the results of research into 205 families with children conceived using different methods of assisted reproduction. She assessed the child's sense of security, the parenting style, and the quality of the parents' partnership and found that by the age of 12 the children were not dissimilar to those who had been conceived naturally. However, Dr Alexina McWhinnie, from the University of Dundee, presented research showing that complications sometimes arose. She compared 31 families with children born after high technology reproductive techniques, such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) with 21 families with children born after donor insemination. In her study, all of the parents who had used donor insemination had opted not to tell their children about the treatment. “Parents found the deception easy while the child was small but all ran into difficulties later on,” she said. She pointed out that people who discovered later in life that their parents had kept half of their genetic identity a secret were often extremely angry.

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