Family units and family formation in the UK are vastly different today than they were when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (the HFE Act) was introduced and last reviewed. In a modern society, some individuals are choosing to start their families later in life and are increasingly choosing to use new and effective techniques to freeze their eggs, sperm, or embryos to preserve fertility. The reasons for this are diverse but can include not being ready or able to start a family, medical conditions that might lead to premature infertility, or undergoing gender re-assignment.
The HFE Act currently sets the statutory storage limits for eggs, sperm, and embryos at ten years, with the possibility of extension up to 55 years for those who can demonstrate a clinical need. The Government recognises that these current arrangements are increasingly disadvantageous towards women and unnecessarily restrictive of individual freedom of choice about when to start a family.
In view of the significant scientific innovation and societal changes, the Government launched a public consultation on 11 February 2020, to seek views about changing the statutory storage limits. The consultation ran for 12 weeks and closed on 5 May 2020.
The Government is today announcing the publication of the Government Response to the consultation.
We received 1,222 responses to the consultation, including 17 from key sector organisations. The responses were analysed and carefully considered by the Department of Health and Social Care giving due regard to the importance of equality, facilitating reproductive choice, administrative burden, and public acceptability.
In the light of these factors and the public response, the Government is announcing a change to this policy; to increase the statutory storage limits for eggs, sperm, and embryos for everyone, regardless of medical need, to 10-year renewable storage periods, with a maximum limit of 55 years. The legislation will be introduced when parliamentary time allows.
The regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) will provide oversight during the introduction of these changes to ensure they are rolled out effectively and safely.
The proposed policy change is intended to facilitate greater reproductive choice and will allow for less stressful decision-making in family formation. Importantly, it will provide equity for all, regardless of medical need, and will help reduce administrative burden for clinics and the regulator.
A copy of the Government’s response to the consultation will be deposited in the libraries of both Houses.
A Regulatory Triage Assessment has also been published alongside the consultation. It can be accessed on gov.uk and will also be deposited in the libraries of both Houses.
This statement has also been made in the House of Commons