Bioethics News

Murky picture of IVF complications in UK

Five years ago, a paper published in the BMJ came to the startling conclusion that IVF was more dangerous than abortion in the UK. The 2007 UK Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Death recorded four deaths directly related to IVF via ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome and three deaths related to multiple pregnancy after IVF. Thus, more deaths were related to OHSS than to abortion (two) despite many fewer IVF procedures (for example, there were 48,829 IVF cycles v 198,500 abortions in the UK in 2007).

Has the situation improved since then?

UK authorities are making it very difficult to find out, suggests Dr Geeta Nargund in BioNews. She points out that the UK’s fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, reported a “slight increase” in severe OHSS incidents in 2015. However, at 40%, the increase was far from slight. She writes indignantly:

The HFEA should be putting this alarming statistic on the front page and discussing methods to reverse this trend. Yet the very opposite appears to be the case. It is impossible to extract the number of OHSS cases from this report and it has only come to light thanks to the persistence of Guardian science reporter Hannah Devlin… there remain questions about whether any maternal deaths that may be linked to OHSS have been reported.

She argues that the HFEA should expose OHSS complications and should make renewal of the licences of IVF clinics conditional upon the incidence of OHSS. “By this means, the welfare and safety of women undergoing IVF treatment would be more effectively protected.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.