The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has decided that human female foetuses cannot be allowed to become the biological mothers of a new generation of babies. Too little is known about the psychological effects on such a child, about the effects on the recipient mother and about the development of foetal eggs, Professor Sir Colin Campbell, chairman of the authority, said yesterday.
In a cautious report on the controversial issues surrounding the use of donated ovarian tissue for treatment and research, the authority draws clear lines between fertility treatment and research. Broadly, it recommends approval for research using foetal, cadaver and live-donor ovarian tissue, but only approval for treatment when the informed consent of a live adult donor has been given.
The report reveals the authority's unease about the use of tissue from minors, dead or alive.
It has decided that the ovaries of girls under the age of 18 should not be used in research or treatment, but will consider further the use of cadaver tissue from women who have given explicit consent, while they were alive, for treatment purposes. 'While we have no objection in principle to the use of cadaveric ovarian tissue from adult women, we will not currently approve its use,' he said.
The recommendations follow six months of public consultation and now await acceptance by the Department of Health. Tom Sackville, junior health minister, described them yesterday as 'wise and practicable'.
The permissions do not go as far as many medical authorities would like, but they go further than the public view, as expressed in the 10,000 responses the authority has received.
Of 8,946 responses analysed, 83 per cent said 'no' to fertility treatment from foetuses and between one- quarter and one-third said 'no' to treatment and research from cadavers or even live donors.
Sir Colin, who is vice-chancellor of Nottingham University, said there was no need to rush into decisions over using human foetal tissue since the 'technologies' which would lead to treatment did not yet exist.
'We are only just beginning to understand the needs and potential problems for children born as a result of new techniques. The use of foetal ovarian tissue is not acceptable in treatment, as we cannot see how the potential problems could be overcome.'
The authority also published its annual report which shows that the 'take-home baby rate' from in vitro fertilisation had fallen slightly, from 13.9 per cent in 1991 to 12.7 per cent, for each treatment cycle, reflecting an increase in the ages of women trying to become pregnant.