Parents face time limit on storage of tissue

AMANDA PARKINSON
Last updated 05:00 13/08/2014

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Parents struggling to conceive may have another hurdle to overcome once legal changes to how long sperm, eggs, embryos, ovarian and testicular tissue may be stored come into effect.

From November 21, such reproductive tissue that has been frozen for more than 10 years will be discarded unless the owner seeks an exemption from the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART).

Fertility Associates, New Zealand's largest fertility clinic, said it had contacted nearly 1900 people who had tissue stored with them for more than 10 years.

"The majority of people we have spoken with have agreed to discard their frozen reproductive products," it said.

Fertility Associates operations manager John Peek said the changes would most affect those who had frozen eggs early in their life for medical reasons.

"The major impact of a 10-year limit is for people freezing sperm, eggs or embryos before cancer treatment," he said.

However, to his knowledge ECART had not rejected anyone who had asked for an extension on the 10-year limit.

The legislation requires all fertility clinics to begin the process of discarding any material 10 years or older or risk a $20,000 fine.

Peek said the discarding of sperm and eggs would be discussed with patients, and they would have the option of picking up unused material from clinics or even donating their materials to an infertile couple.

At present New Zealand law does not let fertility clinics donate unused reproductive products for scientific research, but Peek said many families had expressed interest in that option.

"Many patients want to have this option and it is available in other countries with a similar legal and cultural background, such as in the UK and Australia. It could come in time if patients lobby for the option."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said that when the Human Artificial Reproductive Technology Act was written in 2004 legislators added this section to minimise long term legal and ethical problems.

"This legislation will help alleviate potential disputes over stored embryos or gametes if a relationship ended," the spokesperson said.

The law also aims to resolve legal disputes over what should be done with fertilised eggs if a donor died.

The spokesperson said that ethically, the law had tried to signal society's default position. "A statutory storage limit turns people's minds to the need to make a decision about their embryos . . . and minimises the possibility of someone being born from material provided by another person who is dead." amanda.parkinson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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