Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Health authority deals with embryonic 'fall-out'

The Gulf Today, 24 Feb 2010

The one-week's deadline issued to discard thousands of frozen human embryos stored at the UAE's fertility clinics is not sufficient to complete the process that has been interwoven with various complications, say Dubai Health Authority (DHA) officials.
Enforcing a federal fertility law barring artificial fertilisation practices in the country on religious grounds, out of fear of mixing lineage, a week's deadline had been announced on Feb.20 to dispose all such fertilised eggs stored at Dubai Gynaecology and Fertility Clinic's (DGFC) facilities.
According to the UAE Federal Law No.11/ 2008 banning the usage and storage of frozen embryos, the thousands of frozen embryos stored at the fertility centres across the country would have to be either destroyed or moved from the UAE.
However, the DGFC has clarified in a statement that the frozen fertilised eggs kept at its storage facilities will not be destroyed without the consent of the would-be parents.
“The centre has to conduct proper consultations with the couples before deciding the next course of action that suits them effectively. The couples would be given the option of transferring the embryos to their own native countries, or having them discarded,” said the head of the DGFC.
Explaining the earlier announcement, the DHA confirmed that it only required the couples who have fertilised eggs stored at the DGFC to approach the centre within a week. The advert urged the couples to reach the centre and discuss their options adhering to the federal law.
The DHA revealed that a majority of the couples who stored their fertilised eggs at the DGFC have for years neither communicated with the centre nor paid their annual maintenance charges. The centre has preserved some fertilised eggs for over 18 years without receiving any fee from the couples.
However, the DGFC has not disposed any fertilised eggs stored in its facilities, albeit the lack of any communication with many of the registered couples for years.
"Despite frequent calls or communication via e-mails, the centre has so far not received any response from the couples, as they have been assumed to have either left the country or have changed their residing addresses," it noted.
A spokesperson of the DHA clarified that the procedure to evacuate the fertilised embryos from the centre will not begin in one week. It’s required more time, as the implementation of the procedure with each patient is interwoven with multiple considerations.
"The one week deadline is only for the concerned parties to ensure that they approach us to take an appointment for consultation. The main aim of the announcement was to reach out to such clients and inform them that they need to contact us within one week," he added.
According to him, the DGFC continued preservation of the couples’ fertilised eggs hoping that they might contact the centre as they would require them at a later stage in their life. Their needs are significant, even though a large number of them have stopped paying their fees.
He pointed out, “Before the DHA releasing the newspaper advert the Dubai Gyneacology and Fertility Centre had informed a majority of the couples through e-mails, faxes and phone calls about the federal law and the processes to be complied with.”
The DHA said that some of the couples have begun their treatment with the DGFC but didn’t like to go ahead with the procedures, while some of them became uninterested in the follow-up as they have aged.
According to official figures, up to 10,000 human embryos have been stored in the facilities of the UAE’s fertility centres since 1995. The Dubai Gynaecology and Fertility Clinic, under the DHA, is storing an estimated 5,000 eggs fertilised through In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), and another 5,000 frozen embryos are stored at the fertility clinic of Al Tawaam Hospital in Al Ain.
The frozen embryos are preserved in liquid nitrogen. They are artificially implanted in the womb of women, who are unable to conceive naturally.
The DGFC has emerged as the largest fertility clinic in the UAE, giving treatments to thousands of women with fertility problems to conceive and fulfill their dreams. Various nationalities, even from Canada and the UK, have been benefited by the reasonable treatments available at the centre.
Meanwhile, the private sector in Dubai is not allowed to run fertility clinics and carry out the IVF procedure and freezing embryos.
The decision to reject medical procedures to use and store human embryos was made by the National Federal Council, as religious scholars raised concerns about family lineage if fertilised eggs were mixed up. Fatwas had been issued from the Dubai’s Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department and the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.
Countries like Germany and Italy had earlier proceeded with the disposal of fertilised human embryos. Meanwhile, surrogacy and adoption practices have become popular across the world.

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