Fertility clinics in Dubai forced to dispose of embryos

Couples who have frozen embryos stored in fertility clinics are being told the fertilised eggs will be destroyed.

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DUBAI // Couples who have frozen embryos stored in fertility clinics are being told the fertilised eggs will be destroyed now that a federal law banning the practice is being enforced. Thousands of frozen embryos, which are used in some in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments, are stored in clinics, with 5,000 at one centre in Dubai.

A federal law overseeing the licensing and regulation of fertility centres and banning the storage of frozen embryos was passed in 2008 but has not been enforced. On Sunday, the Dubai Gynaecology and Fertility Centre (DGFC) announced that in line with the federal law it "will dispose [of] the fertilised eggs" stored at the facility. All "concerned parties" were requested to contact the centre within a week.

The notice said the process of disposal would begin after one week and the centre would follow "recognised scientific methods". Those likely to have fertilised embryos frozen are childless couples or those who have undergone successful IVF treatment but wish to have the option of trying for another baby in the future. The embryos are thawed when needed and implanted into the woman's womb. When the law was announced, the previous minister of Health, Humaid al Qattami, cited two fatwas, or rulings, from Dubai's Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department, and another from the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.

He said the practice of storing frozen embryos should not be permitted because it could lead to "mixing lineage". Experts have dismissed the notion that embryos could be mixed up. Yesterday, the DGFC released a statement to clarify the situation, assuring couples that the disposal procedure would not begin in one week and that there were "many considerations which need to be looked into". "The one-week deadline is for all concerned parties to ensure that they approach us to take an appointment for consultation," the statement said. The message noted that most of its clients "have not enquired about their fertilised eggs for years", some of which have been in storage for 18 years.

Tawam Hospital in Al Ain also stores thousands of fertilised eggs. Officials said they expected to release a statement today. The latest announcement is a blow to patients who hoped to use the fertilised eggs in certain in-vitro fertilisation treatments. The Federal National Council voted in June 2008 to ban the storage of human embryos, but doctors called for clarification before they took any action.

The facilities that store the frozen embryos declined to say which government body issued the new order. In October, the DGFC said an Emirati woman had given birth to a baby boy conceived using frozen eggs and that three other women were pregnant by the same technique. Dr Samir Radi, the centre's senior embryologist, said it was a "huge development" and the first birth of its kind in the Gulf region.