Antonio Urriés is an embryologist and president of ASEBIR (Association for the Study of the Biology of Reproduction) , an organization that represents almost all embryologists in Spain. Theirs is a profession little known by the general population, but their work is very important, because without them it would not be possible to carry out the more than 150,000 assisted reproduction cycles that are carried out each year in our country.
However, despite the fact that they have been working in health centers for decades, they are not recognized as health professionals, something they have claimed for years and that is leading to mobilization in front of the Ministry of Health.
At ASEBIR you represent 2,000 Spanish embryologists. For people who don’t know, what exactly is your job?
“Failure to resume assisted reproduction treatments can cause a significant decrease in the birth rate”
The embryologist is the one in charge of carrying out all the necessary techniques to achieve a pregnancy, but applied to the gametes: the eggs and the sperm. He is in charge of obtaining good quality embryos so that couples who have fertility problems have a better chance of obtaining a pregnancy. We develop our work in assisted reproduction units of hospitals, public or private.
In which IVF processes is the embryologist involved?
The assisted reproduction units are multidisciplinary, since first the gynecologist performs ovarian stimulation to obtain a certain number of eggs. Embryologists are responsible for what in vitro fertilization itself is .
To do this, we have to receive those eggs, use the necessary techniques to fertilize the eggs and obtain the embryos and allow the appropriate conditions for the development of these embryos until the moment of their transfer. We are also responsible for analyzing these embryos, validating them, conducting genetic studies to prevent them from having any hereditary genetic disorder … Without in vitro fertilization, assisted reproduction would not exist.
In Spain, almost 10% of children are born thanks to some type of fertility process, in fact, we are leaders in Europe in this regard….
In Spain, with such a low birth rate, assisted reproduction is very important. These data value the capacity we have in Spain, where more than 150 thousand procedures are performed per year. We are leaders, not only in the number of cycles, but also in the quality of care, and that makes even people from outside come to undergo assisted reproduction processes here.
What studies and specialties does an embryologist have to have?
Most of the embryologists, we are biologists, biotechnologists, biochemists … with basic training, and then we specialize with masters, specialization courses … We even have a certification that accredits an embryologist to carry out this activity, which after all is what that we are asking the Ministry of Health.
“Of the seven scientists who are going to receive the Princess of Asturias Award for health research this year, five are biologists or biochemists. How can they continue to deny us that we are healthcare professionals? “
Both embryologists and biology students and opponents of the BIR are carrying out a series of protests this week in front of the Ministry of Health . Why?
Because we basically want it to regulate our professional activity, to be recognized as healthcare professionals, because we have been working on this issue for more than 30 years and we have not yet achieved it. It is something that we already signed in 2019, with a broad consensus, but it has not yet materialized, so we only ask that you comply with what you signed. The law is even already modified, it only remains to be published.
The former Minister of Health, María Luisa Carcedo, He came to give a press conference announcing it, but the current minister has not complied, they have even backed down. And it is something that not only affects embryologists, but there are other professionals who work in other areas of health, such as geneticists, who are in the same situation.
We are not asking that they regulate a new professional activity, but that we have been working as health personnel for years to be recognized so that we do not have problems to carry out our work, and even to be able to carry out our work outside of Spain. We do not understand why it is not carried out if it is already signed, because it will allow the free development of work to the people who are working, certainty to the students that they are preparing and tranquility to the patients.
What was in that agreement?
An agreement was reached to add an additional provision to the current law in which it was specified that, by completing a professional master’s degree in health biologist, people with certain training are trained to be a health professional. And those of us who are already working and have proven experience were automatically recognized as health biologists.
It is the same that has been raised in other countries, such as Portugal. We are the only country in Europe that does not have it. But for not complying with it, they do not give us more than excuses … There are autonomous communities that are trying to solve the problem themselves, such as Navarra, which has created the figure of the clinical biologist, but it has to be solved at the national level.
Why is it important that the figure of the health biologist be recognized?
The Bioethics Committee asks to end the anonymity in the donation of eggs and sperm, but embryologists are against
For many things. To begin with, so that students who are studying these careers right now have the certainty that they will be able to carry out their activity properly. If it is not regulated, those of us who are working could reach the absurdity of having to stop working in hospitals, because there is a rule that says that any professional who works in a health center must be included in the State Registry of Health Professionals , and at the moment we are not because we are not recognized as health professionals.
And this also brings problems to those who work outside of Spain, because the first thing they ask these professionals is whether the activity is regulated here. Not being there, they have problems with contracts,
And what is the next step?
We will continue to ask for meetings with the Ministry of Health , and at the ASEBIR national congress, which is in November, we will once again invite all the actors involved to explain their plans to us, because we do not want to stay another 30 years blocked, we are the laughter of Europe. I want to finish with a fact, and that is that, of the seven scientists who are going to receive the Princess of Asturias Award this year in health research, five are biologists or biochemists. How can they continue to deny us that we are a healthcare professional?