London (CNSNews.com) - The birth of a baby girl using a British woman's once-frozen eggs was hailed as an important advance Friday by scientists, but pro-life campaigners expressed mixed feelings on the ethical issues surrounding the procedure.
While not the first such procedure worldwide, the birth was the first in Britain using frozen eggs drawn from the birth mother rather than donated cells.
In standard in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, sperm are combined with eggs to create embryos which are then frozen. Pro-life campaigners say the process is wasteful and results in the destruction of human life, while some scientists say "leftover" IVF embryos can be used to advance stem cell research.
The woman giving birth using the frozen eggs and her husband objected to the creation of embryos that might not be used on the basis of their religious beliefs as Jehovah's Witnesses.
Instead, Helen and Lee Perry opted for so-called "natural IVF", where only a few eggs are taken from the woman and frozen without being inseminated. The eggs are later defrosted and fertilized one at a time until a successful pregnancy develops.
The leader of the team that performed the procedure at the Midland Fertility Services clinic said egg freezing will work for women "who want to freeze their eggs to keep their reproductive options open."
"I think that egg freezing may come to be seen as the ultimate kind of family planning," said Dr. Gillian Lockwood.
The technique has also been recognized as a way to allow women undergoing cancer treatment that may affect their fertility to later bear their own genetic children.
"We were thrilled as we realized we could tell young women who were about to undergo cancer treatment that if we collected their eggs first there was a realistic chance that one day they'd be able to be mothers of their own babies," Lockwood said.
Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE) said the procedure was "ethically a great step forward" over traditional IVF.
"The fact that the woman undergoing this procedure cited religious reasons is also quite significant," she said.
Quintavalle warned, however, of the social implications of delayed childbirth on a large scale.
"From our perspective, pragmatically it is a solution ... but it would be wrong to create a mentality that children can always be postponed," she said. "There are consequences that result from the divorcing of reproduction from a physical act between a man and a woman."
Quintavalle said CORE would want to draw a line between women using the egg-freezing procedure in advance of cancer treatment or for moral reasons and those who simply want to delay reproduction.
Nuala Scarisbrick of the Life charity said her group was afraid egg freezing would end up being just one more part of a "designer baby lifestyle."
"The birth of any baby is a source of great joy," she said. "But many women will not be undergoing this procedure for health reasons."
"We have always opposed the freezing and storing of eggs and sperm," Scarisbrick said, citing potential health risks for both the resultant child and the mother, whose ovaries must be stimulated to release eggs as part of the procedure.
Egg freezing, Scarisbrick said, could become "part of the commodification of procreation and the manufacture of children."
The first U.S. birth using frozen eggs occurred in Georgia in 1997 and there are thought to be around 30 children who have been born as a result of the procedure worldwide. The Perrys were scheduled to appear on British television Friday night to discuss their experiences.
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