Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Reproductive Health

Fertility law and regulation need to change—here’s how it could happen

BMJ 2022; 378 doi: (Published 23 August 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o1899
  1. Sarah Graham, journalist
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The fertility sector has undergone radical changes, with the UK’s 30 year old legislation unable to keep up. Sarah Graham asks what the UK’s regulatory body needs to do about this

The past 30 years have seen the fertility sector undergo considerable change and expansion, not just in scientific and medical terms but in sociocultural and commercial terms as well. Once controversial and highly stigmatised, the use of assisted reproductive technologies is today an increasingly mainstream way of starting a family. Of the almost 22 million123 live births recorded across the UK between 1991 and 2019, more than 390 000 babies (around 1.8%) were born as a result of fertility treatment.4 But while there’s no doubt that fertility treatment has changed significantly, many agree that the legal and regulatory frameworks surrounding it have not kept up.

Julia Chain, chair of UK regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), is clear about the need to update UK fertility law, bringing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 in step with the realities of modern life. Speaking to the Fertility 2022 conference in January, Chain said that while much of the act remains fit for purpose, she’d like to see “selective modernisation” in three key areas: patient protection; scientific developments; and consent, data sharing, and anonymity.5

The HFEA has already taken the first steps towards parliamentary change. According to a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care, “The [HFEA] has agreed with the department that it will undertake a review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act to identify priorities for modernisation and present a report on its proposals by the end of the year. The department welcomes this work and we will consider the report when it is completed.” So what do doctors and …

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