Helen Hunt speaks to Prof Charles Kingsland, head of the fertility unit at the Women’s Hospital
"A COLLEAGUE said the greatest gift a father can bestow on his daughter on her graduation day is the money to go and get her eggs frozen so that she can go off, get her career and in her late 30s/early 40s she can thaw her eggs out.
“And yes society will say ‘isn't that terrible’ but I guarantee you in one generation there will be egg banks all over the country.”
These are the forthright views of Professor Charles Kingsland, the renowned clinical director at the Hewitt Centre of Fertility at the Women’s Hospital in Liverpool about fertility and the issues around it.
It is a controversial subject and one that very much affects my peers – women in their 30s – but also wider society which has some tough questions to answer about what is right and wrong and whether, just because the technology exists, it should be used and for what ends.
His profession, IVF, has been seeped in debate since its own conception.
Nottingham-born Prof Kingsland, who went into fertility after a stint as a family doctor, tells me that test-tube babies, as they were commonly then known, were seen as something a “bit weird”.
Times have changed and IVF or in vitro fertilisation (where a man’s sperm and a woman’s egg are brought together artificially to form an embryo which is then re-planted in the woman’s womb) is accepted practice.
Having been at the start of Liverpool’s burgeoning IVF service – which he says started in a broom cupboard at Liverpool University – he has witnessed first hand the demand from infertile couples.
In year one they treated 90 patients, they now see more than 2,000 annually, a mix of NHS and private patients. Women in Merseyside who meet the criteria are entitled to two IVF cycles on the NHS.
From there The Hewitt Centre – named after respected fertility expert Jonathan Hewitt who Prof Kingsland worked with in the early days of the Liverpool Women’s unit – grew.
It can now freeze eggs and sperm for cancer patients whose fertility would be impaired by treatment and has an embryoscope, which, with the aid of a computer, assesses embryos so the one with the best chance of surviving is put back into the patient – reducing the chance of a miscarriage.
But as fertility technology progresses, it poses new ethical questions. It seems fertility will always court controversy.
Prof Kingsland agrees. “It’s very high profile, it’s very low priority.