Thousands of embryos, sperm and eggs will be discarded in November as legislated time limits come into force this year on frozen storage.
All sperm, embryos, eggs, ovarian and testicular tissue that have been in frozen storage for more than 10 years on November 21 will need to be discarded or hefty fines imposed on the clinics involved.
The people who had placed items in frozen storage since before November 2004 are currently being contacted by clinics like Fertility Associates about the implications for their storage.
Fertility Associates clinician Dr Richard Fisher said there were still about 300 people out of 1900 of their customers who could not be reached.
He felt it was unethical to discard their frozen storage without at least trying to reach the owners but there would be no option at the deadline.
Christchurch woman Lisa O'Brien was contacted recently and asked for permission to discard her frozen embryo. The embryo had been in storage since 2002.
"I was surprised at how I felt. I didn't think I had any emotional attachment to just some cells that perhaps could become a baby."
She and her partner now have three children, one adopted, one IVF and one a natural birth and O'Brien said she had no intention of using the embryo.
But having to make the decision to discard it was a tough one - which she put off for several weeks.
"You do start to think, oh my gosh, is this just an embryo . . . or could it be a brother or sister?"
Fisher said anyone wanting an extension would need to apply to the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART) and their application would be considered on a case by case basis.
"There are significant numbers who want to extend storage. There are lots of young men who had sperm stored because they had cancer who may still want it to use later."
Fisher said he didn't imagine there being issues if the frozen storage was to be kept for personal use in the future however that would be for ECART to determine.
The legislation requires all fertility clinics to begin the process of discarding any material older than 10 years after November 22.
The fine for not doing so is $20,000.
Other countries also have storage limitations, the UK limits storage to five years while Australia indicates five years as a guideline but has no formal legislation.
Fisher said the limit was agreed by legislators 10 years ago. It was a social question of whether it was right to have someone using sperm frozen decades earlier to have a baby. Until now there were no time limits on frozen storage.
- Sunday Star Times
Should fluoride in water be the responsibility of central government?