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To better understand the risks of in vitro fertilization, the health ministry will study the impact of artificial insemination on the development of children from birth to age 6 with a survey later this fiscal year of around 8,000 children conceived through the method, ministry officials said Tuesday.

Rising infertility rates and more women giving birth later in life are pushing up the number of in vitro fertilizations. In 2004, an estimated 18,000 babies were conceived via the method in Japan.

Critics say the in vitro method — in which an egg is removed from a woman’s ovary, fertilized with sperm and then placed in the womb — may cause multiple pregnancies that could pose risks to the woman’s health or increase the likelihood of birth defects.

Women fighting infertility welcomed the ministry’s plan as possibly providing insight into potential risks. But some medical professionals are concerned that sensitive personal information could be leaked.

Through the survey of children and their parents, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to check the likelihood of birth defects, and the development of intelligence and mental state by age, the officials said.

The ministry is eyeing commissioning the National Center for Child Health and Development in Tokyo to conduct the research and handle data management, and report to the ministry on a regular basis, they said.

“Reproductive health care does not end with pregnancy, but rather it starts with birth,” said Yasunori Yoshimura, a professor at Keio University in Tokyo expected to be in charge of the research.

“We hope to make long-term observations and proposals for what needs to be done in health care from the perspective of ensuring safety of babies to be born,” Yoshimura said.

A survey in 1999 by the Friends of Finrrage network of infertile women in Japan found that about 40 percent said they were briefed by doctors about possible side effects and risks of in vitro fertilization when the doctors recommended that they undergo it.

A little more than 10 percent said they were presented with data about the risks.

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