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Assisted reproduction and fertility law

Storage of gametes and embryo

There are many reasons why you may choose to preserve your fertility by storing gametes or an embryo for future use. For example you may know you want to have a child at a later date, be facing medical challenges, or beginning or undergoing hormone therapy.

Gamete storage is the storage of reproductive cells (eggs and sperm). Embryo storage is an option if you have undergone in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and have unused quality embryos that you may wish to use in the future. As standard, eggs, sperm and embryos can be stored for 10 years in the UK. In some circumstances, this can be extended to 55 years.

Consent is a major part of any fertility process. Consent ensures that your eggs, sperm or embryo are used as you wish and that the intended people will be considered legal parents to any future children. Understanding what you are consenting to and the associated issues is critical. You are legally entitled to withdraw consent at any time.

There are a number of elements to consent. One is to consent to storage and another is to consent to treatment, in other words how your eggs, sperm or embryo can be used. You may also be asked to consent to who the legal parents of the child will be; what happens to your eggs, sperm or embryo if you or your partner die or lose mental capacity; and how your personal information can be used.

If you do not use the eggs, sperm or embryos you have stored, you can consent for them to be discarded or donated. You can choose to donate them to somebody else, to training or to research.

If you are storing or donating eggs, sperm or embryos, you should be offered counselling by your clinicians.

Our specialist solicitors can support you through the process and ensure that you understand, and are happy with, the agreements you are entering. We can also assist if there is any dispute about the use of gametes and embryos or the consent provided.

Import and export of embryos and gametes

If you have stored eggs, sperm or embryos, you may wish to bring them into the UK (import) or move them to another country (export). There are a variety of reasons for import and export. For example, you may be moving to or from the UK, be using a donor from another country, or be choosing to have fertility treatment overseas.

Strict requirements must be met before UK clinics will allow stored eggs, sperm or embryos to be moved across borders, to or from their care. They need to be certain that the other clinic is licensed and has correct processes in place, amongst other things. The requirements can vary depending on where the other clinic is based and if you are importing or exporting. If your import or export does not meet the requirements, the clinic can contact the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) to apply for special permission.

If you are importing, the standard storage time in the UK is 10 years. This can be extended to 55 years in some circumstances. If you are exporting, the rules around how long you can store eggs, sperm or embryos in the destination country may be different to the UK.

Posthumous conception law

Posthumous conception is when you use the eggs or sperm of somebody who has passed away to conceive. Generally, posthumous conception is only possible when the deceased person gave consent before their death. This means that they chose to store eggs, sperm or an embryo, and signed the necessary consent forms. Consent can only be given when the person has mental capacity.

In rare cases, it is possible to collect and use eggs, sperm or embryos of somebody who has died without their consent. These cases will be looked at on an individual basis.

Our specialist solicitors can provide you with sensitive advice about your legal position if you are considering posthumous conception.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regulation

HFEA is a government regulatory body that ensures UK fertility clinics and research centres are complying with the law. The regulations in fertility law are complex and there are many ethical considerations. Our solicitors can help you understand and navigate the regulations so that you are clear on what options are available to you, the ethical boundaries, and what your position is throughout the process.

Fertility: things to consider to help your treatment proceed smoothly

In this video, Annabel Winsor, a paralegal working in our Family team, explores some of the key questions to consider when moving forwards with fertility treatment to enable you to consider all the options, make informed decisions and ensure that treatment proceeds as smoothly as possible.


Contact an assisted reproduction and fertility law solicitor

Our solicitors are experienced in advising on a range of situations that can arise in the field of fertility law. We can help you facilitate discussions and make representation on your behalf to fertility clinics or the HFEA. We can also assist in challenging decisions which have been made in relation to your eggs, sperm, embryos, posthumous conception.

With medical advancement, this is a complex area and new cases are often unprecedented, as every family and situation is unique. We will provide you with bespoke, sensitive advice tailored to your circumstances, whatever they may be.

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