Gregg and Talia Lapins with their sons Cooper (left, who was born with assisted medical reproduction), and Hugo. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The health care community has welcomed the new draft law on medical assistance for reproduction that allows egg, sperm and embryo freezing and bans surrogacy, egg and sperm donation.

With a rise in rates of infertility owing to stress and poor lifestyle, a large number of young married couples are seeking assisted reproduction services. Fertility experts feel the new law has given greater clarity on the legal purview of medically-assisted reproduction, while giving a boost to medical tourism as In vitro fertilisation is one of the top five procedures for which international medical tourists come to the UAE.

Dr Michael Fakih, Founder and Medical Director of the Fakih IVF Group, said, “This is a great step and before this many patients looking for embryo freezing were going to other neighbouring countries. Now the new law makes it clear that patients can have their embryos frozen which makes pregnancy in women, aged 38 and above also possible. The technique will allow us to easily transfer the frozen embryo to the uterus only when the lining is ready. Usually frozen embryos are able to easily attach to the uterus wall.”

He said the law would help reduce the financial cost of medically-assisted reproduction by 80 per cent, while at the same time increasing the chances of pregnancy for patients.

Dr Fakih said earlier egg and sperm freezing was allowed only under special circumstances. “However, the new draft law will allow single women to preserve their fertility and try their chances of motherhood later after they get married.”

Hoda Abou-Jamra, Group CEO, Bourn Hall Fertility Clinic, Dubai, said, “We are very pleased that the UAE government has made advancements in their health care laws and regulations to benefit the patients, which will consequently lead to long-term ease and convenience, and ultimately best results. The permission to freeze eggs, sperms and embryos will make things easier, more convenient, bringing about a reduction in cost and also giving a better chances of success rate in some patients.”

Bourn Hall is credited with success in the birth of world’s first test tube baby, Louise Brown, and Abou Jamra added; “Bourn Hall has been helping to lobby for this law and advancements in regulations in assisted reproductive technology since its beginning in the late 1970s. New advancements in this field will not be possible unless governments pass such laws for scientific advancements.”

In Abu Dhabi, Dr Walid Sayed, group medical director at HealthPlus Fertility Centres, said, “Many women who have polycystic ovarian disease require IVF to conceive. If embryo freezing is not allowed, we have to destroy all embryos that are not immediately implanted. On the other hand, if we can freeze the embryos, we can allow the patient to recover a little from the process of ovarian stimulation and egg collection before implanting the embryo.”

The frozen embryos can also allow the patient to conceive more children in the future without the hassle of hormonal stimulation and egg collection every time.

“A typical round of IVF yields about 15 eggs, from which we get five to six embryos that are healthy enough to be implanted. We can implant one or two eggs immediately, and the remaining can be frozen for a future pregnancy for up to five years. These embryos will be healthier than any formed from the couple undergoing IVF at a later date, thus increasing the chances for a successful pregnancy while reducing the risk of genetic defects,” he explained.

What parents have to say

In 2014, an Abu Dhabi resident Gregg Lapins was allowed to freeze his sperm with the assistance of the Bourn Hall Fertllity Clinic in Dubai, owing to the growth of a tumour on one of his testicles. He underwent chemotherapy and subsequently he and his wife Talia were able to have their baby Cooper, much to their joy. This was made possible with assisted medical reproduction techniques.

The Lapins family moved to Brisbane, Australia since. An investment adviser there, Gregg expressed his joy at the new draft law. In an email to Gulf News, he said “That is great news. For us at the time only sperm could be frozen and as such was a bit of a limiting factor.”

Cooper, now six years old, also has a brother Hugo. “Hugo was oddly enough conceived naturally without IVF assistance 19 months after Cooper,” said Lapins. He added: “We miss our time in the UAE and the many friendships we made. We wish all families every success in their hopes and dreams of starting a family.”

Sarina S, a Sri Lankan mother-of-two in Abu Dhabi, said, “I have polycystic ovarian disease, and my husband and I first sought IVF to conceive in 2015. It resulted in a successful pregnancy, but five healthy embryos had to be destroyed. Later, our gynaecologist pointed out that freezing the embryos would have helped us conceive easier for a second pregnancy, but this option was not even presented to us due to lack of clarity on existing laws. Fortunately, I conceived spontaneously the second time around. The new law will definitely make things easier for couples like us.”