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.

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