The HFEA – Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

What is the HFEA?

HFEA is responsible for regulating the use of pre-embryos and embryos. The authority is made up of elected members including a wide range of faiths, professionals, politicians and doctors and scientists. However, doctors and scientists already using embryos or involved in embryo research may not be part of the group. The aim is to maintain objectivity in decision-making but to recognise different beliefs and values in regulating practices.

The HFEA is an independent organisation which licenses premises which use or deal with human eggs or sperm – this might involve IVF clinics, embryo storage, research centres and so on. They perform inspections of premises to ensure they met tight guidelines about cleanliness and are correctly following procedures and adhering to the law. They develop the policies and standards for the clinics and make recommendations on the law which get passed by parliament. They also license technologies which may be used in stem cell research, or for pre-implantation diagnosis and screening.

Watch this Video about what the HFEA does here.

They review research and public opinion to inform decision-making. In 2011 they were looking at the number of multiple births as a result of IVF treatments and ways of reducing this number without adversely affecting couples chances of a successful cycle. Below is an example of a recent campaign on the donation of sperm and eggs. They wanted public opinion on three areas:

1.       Should donors receive moderate compensation for their eggs or sperm?

2.       Should there be a cap on the number of families created through donors?

3.       How should family donation of sperm and eggs be regulated?

The reponse

As a response to this some of the guidelines were changed including.

  • Should donors receive moderate compensation for their eggs or sperm?

    • It’s illegal to pay for egg donation in the UK. Egg donors can receive compensation of up to £750 per donation ‘cycle’ to cover their costs. A donation cycle is one complete round of treatment, at the end of which the eggs are collected and donated. There is the option to claim more to cover higher costs such as travel, accommodation and childcare.

    • Sperm donors can receive up to £35 per clinic visit to cover their expenses, with more available for higher expenses such as travel, accommodation or childcare. It’s illegal to pay sperm donors more than their reasonable expenses.
  • Should there be a cap on the number of families created through donors?

    • Donated sperm cannot be used to create more than 10 families, with no limits on the number of children born within each family. However, you can choose a lower limit if you wish.
    • In practice less than 1% of donors create 10 families with most sperm donors creating one or two families, with one or two children in each family.
    • The reason we set limits on the number of families you can help create is that we know through consultation this is the level which donors and donor-conceived people feel comfortable with in terms of the numbers of potential donor-conceived children, half-siblings and families that might be created.
  • How should family donation of sperm and eggs be regulated?

    • There have been regulations put in place for family members. Also to encourage more donors many clinics offer free IVF treatment to a nominated family member of a donor.

The Law in the UK

The HFEA checks that the centres are abiding by the law which states:

  1. Research on pre-embryos up to 14 days is permissible. After 14 days the embryo should be destroyed.
  2. Research should have a purpose and goal in mind. It should not be done purely for the sake of research.
  3. Research on embryos is permitted for the following reasons:
    1. promoting advances in fertility treatment
    2. increasing knowledge about inherited diseases (congenital disease)
    3. increasing knowledge about miscarriage and its causes
    4. developing understanding and improving contraception techniques
    5. developing better ways to recognise genetic abnormalities in embryos before implantation.
  4. Eggs and Sperm should not be brought and sold
  5. Consent from the providers must be obtained.
  6. Human and Animal genetic material should not be mixed up.
  7. Reproductive Cloning is strictly illegal. (you cannot clone yourself and implant into a womb to grow full term)
  8. Therapeutic cloning is accepted but strictly controlled and licensed.
  9. Embryos can be used to create Saviour Siblings but each case should be carefully reviewed.
  10. Hybrid embryos can be used for genetic research into degenerative diseases but should never be implanted into the womb. After 14 days they should be destroyed.
  11. PGD acceptable to find congenital diseases.

Further Reading

The HFEA website is really good at answering further questions you may have.

They also have a YouTube Channel covering various elements of their work and regulation.


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