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Regulating Assisted Reproduction

Naomi Cahn is a professor of family law at the University of Virginia.
Naomi Cahn is a professor of family law at the University of Virginia.

The first American test tube baby was born here in Virginia forty years ago, but the state is lagging when it comes to regulating fertility clinics. Naomi Cahn, who teaches family law at UVA, says would-be parents trust these places to protect their health and their future.

“You might get your eggs or embryos frozen for a variety of reasons. One is if you’re about to undergo cancer treatment or some other treatment that’s going to affect your fertility," she says. "People who are undergoing in-vitro fertilization may create extra embryos for use if the first cycle is unsuccessful or for purposes of having additional children.”

Unfortunately, she says, some clinics have had catastrophic equipment failures where temperatures rose in freezers, and thousands of eggs or embryos were lost.

“From what we know, such mishaps are relatively rare," Cahn says, "but we need more regulation to find out just how often those mishaps are and to prevent future ones from occurring.”

Virginia is one of 14 states with assisted reproduction rates higher than the national average, but clinics here are not required to warn patients about the risks of assisted reproduction, and Cahn says they don’t have to keep track of what they have in storage.

“There needs to be tougher inspection done of clinics and labs. We need much better record keeping of sperm and egg donation, and then we could use more stringent licensing. The United Kingdom has national regulation of fertility clinics," she adds. "There are things like limits on the number of families that can use the same donor. Here in the U.S. we could have 500-600 children born from the same donor.” :

Fortunately, clinics are required to report their rates of success and failure to the Centers for Disease Control, and two non-profits offer guidelines and certification, but Cahn argues we’d be better off with national laws that ensure uniform standards and protections for those who get care at fertility clinics.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief