Thursday, July 24, 2008

Girls' eggs taken as safeguard

By RUTH HILL and ANNA CHALMERS - The Dominion Post | Friday, 25 July 2008

Some parents of child cancer sufferers are having their little girls' eggs frozen to give them the chance of having their own babies one day.

However, doctors say the procedure is still experimental and there are ethical issues to resolve before it becomes standard practice.

Bioethics expert Gareth Jones, a spokesman for the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology, which this week recommended allowing frozen eggs to be used in fertility treatment, said there was nothing in law to stop parents pursuing this option.

Ethics committees faced growing pressure from parents wanting their daughters' eggs or ovarian tissue removed before cancer treatment, he said.

"However, any application would still have to be considered by an ethics committee - with young children, there is the issue of informed consent, among other things."

Child cancer specialist Scott MacFarlane said he knew of two families who had gone to Australia to have the procedure in order to "circumvent the torturous ethics committee process" in New Zealand.

Another pre-pubescent girl had surgery in Christchurch to harvest ovarian tissue after clearance by the local ethics committee.

Dr MacFarlane said he welcomed open debate on the issue, which raised several clinical and ethical considerations.

"Our primary goal is to save the life of the child and we don't want to do anything that would jeopardise their chance of survival.

"Any delay to initiating cancer therapy in order to carry out what is still an experimental procedure that may ultimately prove a fruitless exercise has to be considered very carefully." His advice to parents was to "watch this space".

"There's a long way to go before I would advocate a wholesale programme of pre-pubescent children having this procedure before cancer treatment."

Wellington fertility specialist Andrew Murray said he had previously frozen eggs for women as young as 16 facing cancer treatment - but he would have qualms about taking tissue from pre-pubescent girls.

"As far as I am aware, there are no ethical guidelines for doing that to children and I wouldn't feel comfortable."

Lea White, whose five-year-old daughter, Bianca, was found to have leukaemia just over a year ago, said she had worried whether treatment would rob her of the chance of having children.

However, Mrs White said even if the family had been offered the chance to freeze some ovarian tissue, she was not sure they would have subjected Bianca to another invasive procedure after chemotherapy.

Hanover funds freeze crushes a sick boy's dream

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'It's my son's trust fund'
By KERRY WILLIAMSON - The Dominion Post | Friday, 25 July 2008

JOHN SELKIRK/Dominion Post

BROKEN PROMISE: Benjamin Pak was dying of leukaemia when mum Jacqui told him she would take him to Australia if he could pull through. But Hanover Finance's move to freeze investor's money crushed that dream.

Benjamin Pak was dying of leukaemia when his mum told him she would take him on a trip to the Gold Coast - if he could just pull through.

He beat the odds and is in remission, and next year Jacqui Clark was going to keep her promise to her 13-year-old son.

But that dream has been shattered by Hanover Finance's move to freeze investors' money, including Benjamin's $9000 trust fund.

"I promised him when he was sick in hospital - he was dying at that point, he hadn't eaten in three weeks - that if he could just get himself better and eat, I would take him on that trip," Ms Clark said.

"We were going to go next year. He was really excited. I really don't hold any faith in getting that money back now. It's sad."

Ms Clark, of west Auckland, is one of 14,500 people who invested more than $500 million in the company run by entrepreneurs Eric Watson and Mark Hotchin.

It is the third-largest privately owned finance firm in New Zealand - and the latest casualty of the finance-company-sector meltdown.

Yesterday the Commerce Commission said it had begun an investigation into the company.

Investors face a nervous three-week wait to see how much money they will get back.

Benjamin - after 3½ years of chemotherapy - has been in remission for the past four years.

Ms Clark first invested her son's trust fund with the company about five years ago. She re-invested it for another 30 days just last week, assured by a staff member that her son's money would be safe.

"It is not my money, it is my son's. We are mortgaged up to the eyeballs and this was going to give him that little bit of happiness," she said yesterday.

"This is what we've been focusing on, a promise I made years ago. And it looks like it's gone."

Hanover's troubles are a double blow to Ms Clark's family. Her 75-year-old mother invested close to $38,000, almost all her life savings. She is in hospital recovering from hip surgery.

"Poor old Mum, she is going to get out of hospital to think she's just got nothing."

Ms Clark has tried to explain the situation to her son, naturally disappointed his dream trip to the Gold Coast is in limbo.

"The sad thing is, Benjamin has said to me all these years, 'I'd love to have this, I'd love to have that'. I always said, 'You can't, this money is for later on'. It's a risk, but I thought it was a careful risk."