The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (the ‘HFEA’), which licenses and oversees fertility treatment in the UK, celebrates its 30-year anniversary this year (2021). Since it began recording information in 1991, approximately 1.3 million in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles and 260,000 donor insemination (DI) cycles have been undertaken in the UK. This has resulted in the birth of around 390,000 babies through UK fertility treatment. Every baby is much-wanted and represents a new life that might not otherwise have been brought into the world.Much has changed over the last 30 years and we have seen massive uptake in demand for fertility treatment in the UK. In 1991 there were just 6,700 IVF cycles undertaken at UK fertility clinics. By 2019, the number of IVF cycles had increased by a factor of ten to over 69,000.Latest statistics from the HFEA show that IVF birth rates in 2019 were also three times higher than they were in 1991. Birth rates have steadily increased over time with the average birth rate per embryo transferred standing at 24% in 2018, compared with just 7% in 1991. All of this makes positive reading and there are now more options than ever before if you find yourself struggling to conceive or you require fertility treatment to start a family, including: IUI, IVF, ICSI, Genomics (e.g. PGT, PGT-A, Genetic Carrier Screening), sperm, egg and embryo donation, known and inter-family donation, a co-parenting arrangement, a domestic or international surrogacy arrangement and adoption. These options can make a big difference, help overcome infertility and put individual journeys to parenthood on a firm and successful footing.Deciding to start a family or undertake fertility treatment is, however, a big step. It can raise all sorts of complex issues and questions depending upon your personal situation, wishes and the rapid changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Should I take the next step with my partner in these uncertain times and try for a baby? Should I delay starting a family to see what happens to my job as a result of current economic changes? How long can I legally store my frozen eggs, sperm and embryos for and what happens to them if my circumstances change? What are my options for having a baby on my own or if my relationship fails? Should I think about importing my frozen eggs, sperm or embryos into the UK for use in fertility treatment? What will happen to my family building wishes and frozen embryos if my partner dies unexpectedly? Do I need a donor or a co-parenting agreement if I conceive with a known sperm or egg donor or a co-parent? What are my legal options if I experience difficulties during a surrogacy arrangement? How can I secure my legal parental rights and status for my child if my relationship with my partner, co-parent or surrogate breaks down?
Top tipsAs such, it has never been more important to proactively address not just the medical issues but the legal and wider aspects too, including:
- Check, preserve and maximise individual fertility (e.g. fertility testing, egg and sperm freezing, embryo creation where appropriate)
- Take care of your health and identify any medical issues or symptoms early to optimise treatments and outcomes
- Think carefully about the shape and size of family you wish to achieve
- Review personal finances and budget for fertility treatment, family creation and expansion as soon as possible
- Identify, understand and navigate the legal and wider issues, implications and outcomes associated with fertility preservation and treatment, family building and family life on an individual basis.
- More delayed and later-life parenthood.
- Increased demand for egg, sperm and embryo freezing.
- More demand for fertility treatment and assisted conception.
- Greater uptake of modern and diverse family forms.
- More pressure on personal relationships and family life.
- Greater focus on posthumous conception.
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