Test-tube baby clinics in Britain are putting women at risk of having babies born dead or severely handicapped because of the dangers of multiple pregnancies, the London Sunday Times reported on December 10, 1989. Some centres offering a new technique called FIGT are transferring as many as five or six eggs to a woman to increase her chances of a successful pregnancy. GIFT are transferring as many as five or six eggs to a woman to increase her chances of a successful pregnancy. GIFT (gamete intra-fallopian transfer) involves the removal off eggs, their fertilization with the partner’s sperm and then their replacing directly into fallopian tubes.
The practice is likely to lead to a woman becoming pregnant with triplets or quadruplets. This happened to Helen Pusey of Dulwich, southeast London. She had four eggs transferred during infertility treatment. She was told that she was carrying four babies, and offered selective abortion, but she refused. “We felt we had already interfered with nature enough,” she said.
The babies were born at 28 weeks, each weighing about 24 ounces. Baby Freddie died after twenty minutes. Baby Clementine developed hydrocephalus and had to have the water drained from her brain with a needle; she became severely paralysed and at five months she died. The surviving two are still in hospital. By the time he was 15 months old, baby Harry had had cerebral palsy, meningitis and eight operations on his brain. Baby Octavia is fed by a tube directly into her stomach. The Puseys have found the last fifteen months absolutely heart-breaking.
Doctors are now calling for legally enforceable restrictions on the number of egg and embryo transfer. They also want independent counseling at all fertility clinics so that couples are aware of the risks.
Some hospitals surveyed by the Times said that they routinely transfer four eggs. The director of the programme at one hospital said that when they had a woman in her late thirties who had failed to conceive on several previous attempts, they might transfer five or even six.
Doctor Elizabeth Bryan, a consultant pediatrician at two London hospitals said that the chances of quadruplets all being born normal were as low as 20 per cent. Doctors have to perform a juggling act, she said, between giving couples little chance of a pregnancy by transferring too few eggs or risking multiple births by transferring too many. Another consultant, Dr. Malcolm Chiswick, said that multiple pregnancies were likely to result in babies being born prematurely, and that the implications in time and resources for already scarce health service neonatal units are “devastating.”