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Almost 170,000 IVF embryos destroyed in Britain each year

Hundreds of thousands of embryos are being destroyed in Britain (PA)

The number of IVF embryos allowed to perish in Britain has risen to nearly 170,000 a year, new figures show.

The figure stood at just six in 1990, when records began, but had reached 169,644 by 2013, having risen in all but three years in that period.

It brings the total number of embryos which have been allowed to perish since 1990 to 2,053,656.

Catholic peer Lord Alton said it shows a “wanton destruction on an industrialised scale” and a “failure to respect and protect human life in its earliest stages”.

Embryos created from female eggs and male sperm during the in vitro fertilisation process can be placed into a woman’s womb, stored for future use or donated to research.

Those allowed to perish may include embryos that are no longer wanted, surplus to requirements, have passed their storage limit or carry a faulty gene that causes an inherited disease.

Legally, embryos not transferred to a patient cannot be allowed to develop beyond 14 days, when they are around the size of the head of a pin.

The figures are held by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the public body set up in 1990 to regulate the IVF industry.

They were released by the Government in written answer given to crossbench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool in the House of Lords.

Reacting to the data, Lord Alton said: “Since 1990, when the creation, manipulation and destruction of human embryos became legal, figures show that at least 2,053,656 human embryos have been allowed to perish.

“Last year the annual rate of attrition rose to a staggering 170,000. Even these figures are likely to be an under-estimate as they don’t bother to keep full and comprehensive records.

“British law, and science, recognise that human life begins at conception. For that reason, successive Governments have said that the human embryo should be treated with respect and should not be used if alternatives are available. How can those sentiments be reconciled with wanton destruction on an industrialised scale?

“Failure to respect and protect human life in its earliest stages leads to a disrespect for life at every other stage. There should be an honest and open reappraisal of the legislation which permits this to happen.”