July 24, 2008
Japan's Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has postponed plans to use in vitro fertilization for two couples who are both infected with HIV. The IVF was approved by Tokyo's Ogikubo Hospital in January of last year, but the ministry said more deliberation and ethical examination is needed.
In an unusual move, a ministry panel studying the issue will hold a public hearing on July 28 to consider whether to approve the treatment and to devise guidelines for similar, future cases.
Ogikubo Hospital has developed a method of removing HIV from sperm, said Vice President Hideji Hanabusa. Using the procedure, IVF has been performed in the cases of couples in which only the husbands were HIV-positive. So far, 65 babies have been born using this method, and all the mothers and children have remained HIV-negative. Ogikubo Hospital decided to try and apply the method to the couples in which both the mother and father are HIV-infected.
The husbands of both of the couples were infected through tainted blood products, and their viruses are highly virulent or drug-resistant. While it is possible for the couples to conceive via normal sexual intercourse, the wives, with less quantities of the virus and more stable immune systems, could be reinfected by their husbands' more virulent strains.
Another issue is that both parents could potentially die before their children reach adulthood. In 2004, a special committee of medical experts -- primarily from the European Union -- recommended that such reproductive medicine be limited to cases in which only one spouse is HIV-positive.