1.7 million embryos created for IVF have been thrown away, and just 7 per cent lead to pregnancy15 embryos made for every woman conceiving through in vitro fertilisationAlmost half are discarded during or after the process, figures have revealed3.5m embryos have been created since 1991 but 93 per cent are never used
Peer said 'industrial' numbers are being wasted with 'casual indifference'
07:45 GMT, 31 December 2012
Millions of human embryos created for IVF pregnancies have been thrown away unused, figures have revealed.
They show that for every woman who conceives a child through in vitro fertilisation, 15 embryos are made, and almost half of them are discarded during or after the process.
More than 1.7 million embryos prepared with the aim of helping women become pregnant have been thrown away since records began 21 years ago, according to the new breakdown.
Tackling infertility: More than 3.5 million embryos have been created since 1991
The scale of rejection of human embryos was made public in response to questions from peers about the level of waste generated in hospitals and fertility clinics.
Crossbench peer Lord Alton said embryos were being created and thrown away in 'industrial' numbers. He added: 'It happens on a day-by-day basis with casual indifference.
'My understanding is that you can carry out fertility treatments these days without creating large numbers of embryos to destroy them. That is where technology needs to move.'
The figures on the use of human embryos were gathered by the fertility industry regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which has recorded IVF processes since 1991.
Embryos are created from female eggs and male sperm during the IVF process. Some are then introduced into the womb of the prospective mother. Others, however, are put into storage, discarded as unwanted, or, in some cases, used in scientific experiments.
The figures released by Health Minister Lord Howe show that 3,546,818 human embryos have been created since August 1991. These have produced only 235,480 'gestational sacs' – evidence of successful implantation.
As a result, 93 per cent of all embryos created – more than 3.3 million in all – are never used to generate a pregnancy.
Of the embryos created, 839,325 were put into storage for future use and 2,071 were stored for donation to others. A further 5,876 were set aside for scientific research.
Industrial numbers: Lord Alton said embryos were being created and thrown away on a daily basis
In all, 1,388,443 embryos were implanted in the hope of beginning pregnancies. Just under one in six resulted in a pregnancy.
Of the rest, 1,691,090 were discarded unused and a further 23,480 were discarded after being taken out of storage.
The figures do not show how many of the successful implants resulted in pregnancies that went to term.
Lord Alton said: 'This sheer destruction of human embryos – most people would not know that it took place on such a scale.
'Most people wouldn't have any idea about the numbers of embryos being created in that process and would also feel very uneasy about them being experimented on as well.'
The HFEA said that one in 50 babies in Britain were now born through IVF treatment.
A spokesman said: 'Over the 20 years since the HFEA was established, more than half a million people have had IVF treatment and around 200,000 babies have been born to couples who would not otherwise been able to have a family.
'IVF involves the creation of more embryos than are transferred to the patient so that the best ones can be chosen to start pregnancy.
Fertilisation: A single sperm is injected directly into an egg
'Those embryos that are discarded may no longer be needed by the individual or couple for treatment.
'In these circumstances they can decide whether to donate the embryos to a research project, another couple or ask the clinic to destroy them.'
Embryos used for research purposes can be used only in projects regulated by the HFEA. The embryos are used to study infertility, miscarriage, embryo abnormalities or serious disease.
Couples usually pay 4,000 or more for a single IVF treatment, although costs can rise through repeated procedures in attempts to achieve a pregnancy.
Lord Howe said in a reply to Lord Alton's written question that the fertility regulator 'does not hold data in relation to embryos experimented upon'.
He added that it was for the HFEA to decide what information it should collect. Lord Alton said this 'defies any kind of logic'.