What would a truly patient-centred egg freezing clinic look like?
It’s about a decade since fast freezing of human eggs took off and in that time the numbers of women choosing elective egg freezing – paying to freeze their eggs so they can use them at a later date – has soared, making the technology the fastest growing fertility treatment in the UK.
In 2018 in the UK, nearly 2,000 women spent between £4,000 to £5,000 a cycle to freeze their eggs and this year, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of opportunities for single women to meet potential partners, clinics say inquiries have jumped by over 50%. But are women getting what they want from this thriving section of the fertility market which many investors are pumping money into?
These were the issues at the heart of Progress Educational Trust (PET)’s free online event on 11 March 2021 ‘The Business of Egg Freezing: From Bluster to Best Practice’.
So what do women want – and need – from elective egg freezing?
First off they need honest, accurate, and transparent information from clinics that does not create unrealistic anxiety about not freezing your eggs or give unrealistic expectations of success if you do. That information needs to cover costs too, including storage of eggs. Without this, women cannot make informed choices and risk being exploited rather than emancipated.
Dr Zeynep Gurtin’s research analysing the websites of the top 15 UK clinics (representing 90% of all egg freezing in the last 10 years) reveals clinics focus on promoting the technology as the means to avoid the reproductive risks of ageing – ‘Start a family later without worrying about your biological clock’ – but include little or no mention of any risks associated with the process and limited direct discussion of success rates.
Information on costs is misleading, with the ‘true’ cost of an egg freezing cycle typically a third more than the advertised cost
Most women who freeze their eggs are single, so should egg freezing spaces be designed with this in mind? Professor Marcia Inhorn’s research speaking with US women reveals they want egg freezing clinics separate from IVF clinics, which are seen as ‘very married’ spaces and emotionally uncomfortable for women who are sad they do not have a partner for parenthood; more than a third of women turn to egg freezing after relationship trauma – divorces or break-ups.
Single women want accessibility
Single women want early morning or evening appointments to mesh with their work demands and they want clinics to help them with transport after medical procedures, because they do not have a partner to drive them home afterwards. They want payment plans to help manage the cost of egg freezing and they would like workplace fertility benefits to cover egg freezing too. If IVF for married couples is covered, why shouldn’t egg freezing for single women be?
Venture capitalist Eileen Burbidge wants to see employers offering reproductive health benefits as part of their corporate benefits package. She sees a focus on reproductive health as critical to attracting and retaining talent and wants to see workspaces as safe places to talk about fertility issues.
A mother with four children, Burbidge laments she didn’t consider egg freezing earlier in her life
Her personal circumstances changed and she would have liked to have had another child with her new partner but at 45 wasn’t able to, despite trying IVF. Egg freezing has the potential to give women reproductive choice but with cost, a major stumbling block for most, should more UK firms consider offering fertility benefits?
What is certainly needed is for UK law to change so that eggs frozen for social reasons can be stored for longer than 10 years and women have a chance at reproductive choice.
If you agree, sign and share PET’s #ExtendTheLimit petition at www.change.org/extendthelimit
To watch a recording of The Business of Egg Freezing, look out for it on https://www.youtube.com/progresseducationaltrust