Test-tube baby report will scare parents off IVF

Dangers are only small for most defects, but fertility officials order change in guidelines

Couples will be encouraged to use in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment sparingly after a new study revealed it could leave babies with a greater risk of genetic health problems.

Fertility experts said yesterday that the findings from scientists in the United States were "interesting" and could change the way doctors give advice to prospective parents. Patients were told that the increased dangers were only "a small risk", although there was speculation that the advice could lead to a reduction in IVF as other methods were tried first.

Surveys showed IVF babies may have an increased risk of heart abnormalities, cleft lips, bowel problems and digestive tract disorders.

In the past, prospective parents have been advised there is only a limited risk of health problems, but for some defects the risk was said to be 30 per cent greater.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the government watchdog on fertility, has ordered a change in the guidance that will be issued to patients. But the authority stressed that some of the potential risks needed further investigation and, when the new advice comes into full use from October, it will be pointed out that the majority of IVF babies are born healthy.

One theory that could explain the study's results is that older women, whose eggs are already weaker, often turn to IVF and therefore the problems faced at birth should be less surprising to scientists. Another idea is patients involved in the study may already have taken fertilisation medication and the drugs may have had an effect on the quality of eggs.

Dr Gedis Grudzinskas, a consultant gynaecologist in Harley Street, said yesterday: "Doctors will have to give this new advice. They would be silly not to. The first question that parents ask is what are the potential problems with IVF. I feel sorry for the parents going through this now, those who have asked that question at the beginning of the process. They have been reassured and now the advice has now changed."

Ten thousand babies in Britain are born through IVF every year, but Dr Grudzinskas added: "There will now be less of a rush to use IVF depending on age and circumstance. People will be encouraged to use the gently-gently approach of artificial insemination or medication. Doctors have in the past jumped into IVF but they have done so thinking that there was no excess risk of a child being born with an abnormality."

The new alert came after the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta carried a check on about 20,000 births, one of the largest surveys of its kind. Dr Grudzinskas added: "This is a significant report from an important institution which wouldn't release a report that could concern parents without justification."

Richard Kennedy of the British Fertility Association said: "We have known for some time that there is a slightly increased risk of abnormalities for all IVF treatments. What we need to remember is that the overall risk of an abnormality occurring is increased with IVF but it is a small risk." A HFEA spokesman said: "As with any medical procedure it is important patients understand what the treatment involves and what the risks may be."

A parent's view: 'Whatever, doctor. We just want a baby'

The warnings will make no difference. Most people come to IVF in desperation that has been percolating for years. First there is the unease, when the months go by and attempts at conceiving have not worked. Then there is alarm when the doctor says yes, there might be a problem. Next come tests, scans and probes, and possibly surgery – all very invasive and distressing.

The woman is pumped full of drugs, so that her body and her character all morph, and she hates it. The man doesn't understand, feels cut off and becomes frightened by what looks like obsession, unless he is becoming obsessed too.

Years pass and time runs out, so savings are blown or credit cards maxed to pay for IVF. Suddenly the clinics are full of helpful doctors who explain it all in a language you understand. Then hand you a huge bill. Bankruptcy looms. This is a gamble, all or nothing for the sake of a baby.

You listen as a doctor outlines the increased risks from having IVF. But you don't hear when you're told there is a danger of life-threatening defects or long-term disabilities. We laughed when they told us we might have multiples: we assumed there was was no real chance of having even one. Given all of this, when IVF doctors do what the HFEA now says they must, they will see eyes glaze. So babies conceived in the usual way have a 2.5 per cent chance of birth defects, while for those who are the product of IVF it is 3.5 per cent? Whatever, doctor. Percentages mean nothing to people caught up in IVF. It's not clever, but for the couples in the waiting rooms, it's a fact of life.

By Cole Moreton, father of IVF triplets

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

    £200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

    Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

    £18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

    All Primary NQT's

    £100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

    Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star