New fertility law allows human embryos to be frozen for the first time

Federal National Council expected to pass the legislation on Tuesday

ABU DHABI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 10JAN2017 - Azza bin Suleiman, FNC member from Dubai, at FNC session yesterday in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National ID: 40472 (to go with Haneen Al Dajani story for News) *** Local Caption ***  RK1001-FNC14.jpg
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A new law which will allow human embryos to be frozen for the first time in the UAE is expected to be passed on Tuesday.

Couples in the Emirates seeking IVF treatment are currently only permitted to freeze unfertilised eggs, meaning many have to travel overseas for the procedure.

From this week, however, the Federal National Council, an advisory body to the government, is set to abolish the restriction.

Azza bin Suleiman, an FNC member, has been campaigning for the change since January 2017.

“I came across the issue during an official visit to Belgium, where I saw hundreds of Emiratis seeking this procedure because they couldn’t do it here,” she said.

“I am very happy that this issue has finally been amended in law. This is proof that we all work as a team."

Despite the relaxation to the law, some restrictions to IVF treatment will remain in place.

Couples will require prior approval from the Ministry of Health to preserve embryos and treatment is only available to those who are married.

Embryos also have to be destroyed if a couple get divorced, or one of them passes away.

Surrogacy also continues to be illegal, with fertility clinics found to have broken regulations potentially facing a fine of up to Dh1 million.

Similarly, medical practitioners who ignore the legislation could face a fine of up to Dh500,000 and a jail term of between two and five years.

UAE authorities have been reluctant to encourage women to have children later in life, due to both complications that can arise as a result and against a backdrop of slow population growth among Emiratis.

It is estimated that 30 to 35 per cent of couples in the UAE have some form of fertility problem.

The overall fertility rate among Emirati women fell to 3.4 in 2014 from 3.7 newborns in 2009, a significant reduction in only five years.

"This is the perfect example of nationals voicing their concerns to FNC members, who in turn deliver those concerns to officials who take the required action," said Ms bin Suleiman.

"The issue of fertilised embryos was sensitive, and I as a woman was able to address it openly on behalf of other women."