Clinics will begin thawing the 3,000 embryos this morning in what fertility experts have called an "appalling waste". At a press conference in London couples desperate for a child pleaded to be able to "adopt" the embryos.
The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said that legally embryos must be destroyed after five years unless both parents consented to further storage. A spokeswoman said it would be "legally and ethically wrong" for couples to adopt an embryo without parents' permission.
As the deadline approached, scores of clinics were handling calls from couples who had been untraceable or had not replied to letters.
At Bourn Hall, in Surrey, where the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was created, 800 embryos will have to be destroyed. Medical director Peter Brinsden, who once threatened to go to prison rather than destroy the embryos, said: "None of us wants to destroy a single embryo. It's the first time we've destroyed an embryo without the express permission of the couple."
Peter Bromwich, medical director of Midland Fertility Services, where 90 embryos will be destroyed, said: "It has been very badly planned by the civil service. We have been telling them for years that this would happen. I would not want the embryos destroyed but we have to abide by the law."
The Life Campaigns pro-life group delivered a letter to Downing Street and the Department of Health demanding a six-month moratorium. Spokesman John Scarisbrick said 130 couples from around the world had come forward to "adopt" embryos.
Three couples appeared at a London press conference, including Norman and Catherine Walker from Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Mr Walker, 39, who called the HFEA's actions "disgusting", said they had tried for four years for a child. "We would love a child but we are also trying to save a life."Reuse content