Same-Sex Couples and Singles Use of Fertility Treatment Hits UK Record

By Elena Berton

May 10, 2019

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More people in Britain are opting for fertility treatment with the fastest growth among same-sex couples, single women and surrogates, the fertility watchdog said on Thursday, as modern families become increasingly diverse.

While heterosexual couples accounted for 91 percent of patients - having about 68,000 treatment cycles in 2017 - they saw the smallest increase on 2016 of 2 percent, data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) showed.

On the other hand, treatments for female same-sex couples rose by 12 percent - to 4,463 cycles - and for single women by 4 percent - to 2,279 cycles - and for surrogates by 22 percent - to 302 cycles.

"We are seeing a gradual change in the reasons why people use fertility treatments, which were originally developed to help heterosexual couples with infertility problems," said HFEA chairwoman Sally Cheshire.

"While the increases in same-sex couples, single women and surrogates having fertility treatment are small, this reflects society's changing attitudes towards family creation, lifestyles and relationships."

The most common treatment was in vitro fertilization (IVF). Almost 70,000 IVF cycles were carried out in 2017, up almost 3 percent on 2016. On average, it takes three cycles for a woman to become pregnant.

Other treatments included some 5,600 donor insemination cycles, largely among patients with a female or no partner, and 1,463 egg freezing cycles by women wishing to have a child later.

Surrogacy is popular among male same-sex couples who want to have a family and can be used by single people, HFEA said.

Surrogacy advocates welcomed the news that more male same-sex couples are choosing surrogacy in Britain, instead of opting for expensive treatment abroad.

"It's great that clinics are seeing demand for IVF from intended fathers because it's needed," said TwoDads.U.K. co-founder Michael Johnson-Ellis, who provides surrogacy support and advice for male same-sex couples and clinics.

Although surrogacy is legal in Britain, it is illegal to pay surrogates more than their basic expenses or solicit their service.

The HFEA report said more than 20,500 babies were born as a result of fertility treatment, as success rates improve, along with safety because fewer patients have twins.