Couples get deadline to claim human embryos

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Couples with human embryos in storage were yesterday urged to claim their "orphans" before they are destroyed.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the government watchdog on test-tube baby treatments, said that there are as many as 1,500 embryos in clinics which are facing a storage deadline at the end of July.

A new law which came into force yesterday allows embryos to be stored for 10 years instead of five - but "parents" must ask apply to clinics for an extension. Otherwise, any embryos frozen before 1 August 1991 reach the end of their maximum storage period on 31July this year and will be destroyed.

The HFEA welcomed the extension, saying it would allow people more time to plan their families and reduce the need for repeated treatments.

Fertility clinics are in contact with most couples. However, there are believed to be about 300 missing owners who, because they have changed their address, may not know about the July storage deadline.

"Clinics can only continue to store these embryos if people come forward and actually consent to the extended storage. Otherwise the embryos will, by law, have to be allowed to perish," said Ruth Deech, the HFEA's chairwoman. "We urge people who have not been in touch with their clinic for a few years to do so now to discuss all the options open to them."

It is estimated there are about 52,000 embryos currently in storage.