The UK Government has called for a review of the length of time that frozen eggs, sperm and embryos can be kept in storage, with the possibility that the current ten year period could be extended
The reason behind this review is that currently, a woman’s choice on when she has children is still being restricted, “despite advancements in freezing technology”. If a woman chooses to freezer her eggs simply to protect her fertility with no known health problems that might affect her fertility, they can only be kept frozen for a decade. However, women whose fertility might be adversely affected by a medical condition, they can be kept in frozen storage for up to 55 years.
Over recent years, the number of women choosing to freeze their eggs has more than tripled. In 2012, there were a total of 410 freezing cycles, but in 2017 this figure had risen to almost 1,500. Doctors day the best time for a woman to freeze her eggs is before the age of 35, but the most common age to do so now is 38.
The majority of these freezing cycles, four out of five, are from women choosing to protect their future fertility for when they’re ready. Only a small proportion of cases were to protect their fertility due to medical conditions and treatments such as for cancer.
The Progress Educational Trust (PET)’s #ExtendTheLimit campaign was instrumental in making this happen
PET director Sarah Norcross says: ‘Women deserve reproductive choice. The 10-year storage limit for social egg freezing is a very clear breach of human rights: it limits women’s reproductive choices, harms women’s chances of becoming biological mothers, does not have any scientific basis (eggs remain viable if frozen for longer than 10 years) and is discriminatory against women because of the decline in female fertility with age. It is an outdated piece of legislation that does not reflect improvements in egg freezing techniques and changes in society which push women to have children later in life; that’s why it is time for change now.’
Now, the health regulator says “the time is right to consider a more appropriate storage limit” for all women
As part of this public consultation, experts will look into the safety and quality of eggs, sperm and embryos stored for longer than ten years, and what additional demand on storage facilities this might entail.
Department of Health minister, Caroline Dinenage, has expressed concern over how the current laws affect women’s fertility
She says, “Although this could affect any one of us, I am particularly concerned by the impact of the current law on women’s reproductive choices”.
“A time limit can often mean women are faced with the heart-breaking decision to destroy their frozen eggs or feel pressured to have a child before they are ready.”
Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Sally Cheshire, celebrates the fact the regulator has listened to the voices of both patients and doctors.
She told the BBC, “While any change to the 10 year storage limit would be a matter for Parliament, as it requires a change in law, we believe the time is right to consider what a more appropriate storage limit could be that recognises both changes in science and in the way women are considering their fertility”.