'Day of national shame' as embryos are destroyed

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A last-minute attempt to save thousands of frozen embryos failed yesterday as clinics finally began to destroy them.

The pressure group Life, which carried out a candlelit vigil for the 3,000 "orphan" embryos on Wednesday night, called on the Official Solicitor, Peter Harris to intervene and stop them being destroyed. They are being allowed to perish because the couples who created them have not been able to be traced, and under current law, frozen embryos can only be stored for longer than five years if the couple give their consent.

The destruction has outraged "pro-life" groups who called yesterday "a day of national shame". The Vatican termed it a "pre-natal massacre" and called for couples to be allowed to adopt the embryos. Around 130 couples have offered to do so, it is claimed.

Life faxed the Official Solicitor asking him to halt the destruction. "The Official Solicitor acts on behalf of children and those unable to defend themselves, and these embryos need protection." said Life's chairman, Professor Jack Scarisbrick.

But Mr Harris said he had no power to intervene in this case as he could only act when appointed by a court. "Furthermore, I can only act as the representative on behalf of a natural person - a life in being. Until a child is delivered it does not have an independent legal persona."

At Bourn Hall, where the world's first test-tube baby was created, staff checked yesterday morning's post and faxes for last-minute requests before starting to thaw out 800 embryos at 8am. At the London Gynaecology and Fertility Centre,around 200 embryos were removed from glass straws at around 8.30am. "It has been very distressing and frustrating for everyone," said the centre's director, Professor Ian Craft.