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Frozen embryos stored in Britain

About 117,619 frozen embryos are stored in Britain. They are living balls of human cells suspended in liquid nitrogen at sub-zero temperatures, waiting for their lives to begin again. //

Lois Walker was one among them and was conceived in October 1997, but was born in April 2000. Her gestation period lasted for more than two years. Lois is now 5 years old. Lois had been an eight-celled embryo and spent about 30 months in a plastic tube, stored in a metal flask in a fertility clinic.

But lot f questions are raised about the future of such kids. The ethical committee members question their authority about their rights as a human being? Are these embryos alive? What should have happened if their parents had split up, and one of them didn't want a baby? One such case is that of Natallie Evans.

She is fighting the bitter legal battle for she wants to thaw her frozen embryos for one last chance of pregnancy and her former boyfriend refuses to give her consent. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Natallie Evans cannot use embryos she made with her Howard Johnston unless he agrees.

It was ordered to be destroyed in October. The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority licenses and monitors the 85 clinics carrying out IVF in Britain. It said that these embryos are created by mixing eggs and sperm in a petri dish. After fertilization they are placed in an incubator for three days, during which they divide and form the eight celled embryo. They are then either implanted into the woman, or frozen and stored.

But in reality, the chances of Evans getting pregnant using one of the embryos is only about 14 %. According to both Science and the law an embryo at this very early stage is a sub-human scrap of genetic material and only becomes a person later in its development. But those who had undergone the process don’t agree with it.

Andy Glew, senior embryologist at the Essex Fertility Centre says that some p eople ask to take home those embryos that have not been used. The officials make sure that life has been terminated before the embryos are given to their parents. The laboratory has a fridge and houses five cannisters which contain 1500 embryos, stored in thin, transparent plastic straws.

Michael Ah-Moye, the consultant who leads the clinic says that they charge a fee because some people forget that their embryos are stored here. Statistics show that every year around 27,800 couples in the UK have IVF, and 8800 babies are born. The Medical Research Council says the risks of genetic damage and cancer in babies born through IVF may not be fully appreciated until these embryos are grown into adulthood.

The first test-tube baby was born in 1978. But the implication of freezing on these embryos was brought to light by fertility expert Lord Winston. He said that freezing embryos appeared to lead to changes in a gene that suppresses cancer. IVF procedures are very costly and every attempt cost about £3000 at a private clinic.


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