Japan to begin pre-implantation screening in April as part of fertility treatment

The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology decided Sunday to start pre-implantation screening of eggs fertilized in vitro for chromosomal abnormalities in April as part of fertility treatment.

The society approved revisions to related internal rules at an extraordinary general meeting the same day.

The pre-implantation screening will be carried out at about 100 certified institutions in Japan for couples who meet any of three conditions, including two or more miscarriages.

The Japanese government will start public health insurance coverage for fertility treatment in April, including in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination.

The Central Social Insurance Medical Council, an advisory panel to the health minister, has said it plans to consider the pre-implantation screening on the basis of discussions at related academic organizations.

“We will wait and see discussions at the council on whether insurance coverage is available (for the pre-implantation screening),” Tadashi Kimura, chairman of the society, said at a news conference after the general meeting. “We are stepping up our study on whether (the pre-implantation screening) can be carried out as advanced medical treatment” that is allowed to be conducted jointly with insurance-covered treatment, Kimura said.

In the pre-implantation screening, the number of chromosomes in an egg fertilized by sperm in a lab is scrutinized and the egg is transferred to the uterus if it is free of any chromosomal abnormalities that can cause miscarriage or infertility.

The screening is viewed critically by some who say it could lead to the selection of lives. Groups of people with disabilities have demanded that the screening is operated prudently.

The obstetrics society has so far approved the pre-implantation chromosomal screening only in clinical research because it is unclear whether the screening can push up the overall fertility rate, although a drop in the rate of miscarriages has been substantiated.

Under the society’s rules, the pre-implantation chromosomal screening can be carried out for couples who have experienced two or more miscarriages or stillbirths, have experienced in vitro fertilization failures two or more times, or have an abnormality of the chromosomal structure in the husband or wife. There is no eligibility age limit.

The pre-implantation screening can be carried out at institutions with doctors who have specialized knowledge about genetic counseling.

At the extraordinary general meeting, the society also decided to expand the scope of hereditary diseases that are covered by pre-implantation diagnosis in which fertilized eggs are checked for genes linked to serious inheritable illnesses. Under the new rules, which will come into force in April, the pre-implantation diagnosis will cover not only diseases that could cause death before the patients reach the age of adulthood but also illnesses that develop in adult life.

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KEYWORDS

health, Infertility