U.K.'s Solution to Multiple Problems: One at a Time

Britain may tighten IVF laws to prevent multiple pregnancies.

New legislation proposed in the U.K. will introduce tighter regulations for in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures and potentially decrease the number of IVF-related abortions. The legislation, if passed, will prohibit doctors from implanting more than one embryo at a time in women under 40. Including the statistics for women over 40, who could still receive more than one embryo, this would mean that the chances of multiple pregnancies would drop from 25 percent to 10 percent, decreasing health risks for both fetuses and mothers.

Doctors usually transfer multiple blastocysts—embryos made up of 80 to 100 cells—at a time to a patient's uterus. The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates U.K. fertility clinics, allows doctors to implant two embryos in women under 40 and three in women over 40. Transferring more than one embryo increases the likelihood of a pregnancy, but it also increases the likelihood of multiple pregnancies.

For mothers, carrying more than one fetus presents an amplified risk of life-threatening conditions such as diabetes and heart attacks. It also presents risks to the fetuses, who are more likely than single babies to be stillborn, to die in the first week of life, to be disabled, or to be born prematurely. "For the children's sake and the mother's sake, there is less risk in putting in one [embryo] at a time," said Dr. David Stevens, family practice physician and chair of the Christian Medical and Dental Association.

Frequently, when more than one transferred embryo implants, doctors recommend that women "selectively reduce" their pregnancies, aborting one fetus in order to give the other one a better chance of survival. If the number of multiple pregnancies could be ...

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