The Human Fertilisation And Embryo Authority (HFEA)
In Britain the HFEA licenses and monitors fertility clinics and types of fertility treatment available in the UK and is responsible for the licensing and monitoring of human embryo research. It also provides independent and objective advice and information to both the government and members of the public including patients, donors and donor-conceived people.
Members Of The HFEA
Only half of the members of the HFEA are allowed to be doctors or scientists involved in fertility treatment or embryo research. This helps prevent important decisions being made by people who have a vested interest in the results. The current chair is Professor Linda Jardine who is actually a Professor of Renaissance Studies at London University. Other HFEA members, who are specialists in their own area, include an accountant, a lawyer, and journalists, as well as women who have suffered fertility problems and had children through fertility treatment.
As the legal regulator of fertility treatments in Britain, the HFEA both sets the standard for clinics that offer IVF and donor insemination and monitors them. It is also responsible for research centres involved with human embryo research and maintains a register of all licensed clinics, research and storage centres. It also ensures the correct care of sperm, eggs and embryos by storage centres.
The HFEA has the largest national database in the world of regulated fertility treatments. This includes a Register of all children born through fertility treatments since 1991, including those born due to donation. Although access to this Register is very strictly controlled, children who were donor-conceived after 2005 will be able to access information about their genetic parent or parents once they are 18 and get support through the process. If you have a donor-conceived child, you are also entitled to find out information about your child's donor.
Donors are also able to find out information about the number, sex and year of birth of any children conceived through their generous donation. The HFEA is also able to advise people seeking fertility treatment about the various fertility treatment options available, as well as information about fertility clinics and the services they offer.
Guidance And Advice
As well as being able to give general guidance and advice to people seeking fertility treatment and the donor-conceived, the HFEA also gives guidelines to clinics and researchers through its Code of Practice. According to this Code of Practice, clinics must provide patients with clear and understandable information about the risks involved in their fertility treatment. Patients also need to have an out-of-hours phone number and guidelines of what to say to other medical staff if they are unable to come to the specialist clinic in an emergency. The HFEA also publishes on its website the success rates of licensed clinics for both pregnancy rates and live births. This information helps you to make a more informed choice of clinic. The HFEA also regularly reviews the latest scientific research and treatment developments, as it is responsible for advising the Secretary of State for Health about all fertility issues.
The HFEA investigates clinical mistakes and other serious incidents as well as serious adverse reactions to treatments. Licensed clinics are required to report 'adverse incidents,' 'serious adverse incidents' or 'near misses' to the HFEA within 24 hours of discovery. This includes severe or critical ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) where hospitalisation was necessary. If a clinic should have a mix-up, misidentification or cause loss or damage to embryos, eggs or sperm, these errors also have to be reported to the HFEA.