Current UK law states that eggs frozen for non-medical reasons can only be kept for 10 years, and some women feel that this time limit forces them to either destroy their eggs or become parents before they are ready. There is now a call for this legislation to be changed and for eggs stored for non-medical (social) reasons to be kept for longer periods of time – possibly for up to 55 years.
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Egg freezing is a method of preserving a woman’s ability to conceive by collecting eggs at a young age (when the quality of the eggs is at its best) and storing them until they are ready to have a child, or to preserve eggs and a woman’s ability to conceive if they are undergoing cancer treatments that affect their fertility.
The process involves in vitro fertilization (IVF), during which around 15 eggs are collected and quickly cooled before being stored in liquid nitrogen tanks. When women want to use their eggs, the eggs are then thawed and injected with sperm before being implanted into the mother’s womb.
However, freezing eggs is not a fertility guarantee, and only one in five IVF treatments was successful in 2017. IVF treatment can cost from £7,000 to £8,000, unless there is a medical necessity for freezing the eggs, in which case funding can be provided.
There is no scientific reasoning behind the 10-year storage limit on frozen eggs, but the earlier the eggs are collected, the more likely they are to be viable. This is because the number and quality of eggs starts to decline after the age of 35.
A core message of the fertility charity Progress Educational Trust’s (PET) campaign is that because of the 10-year limit, women feel they need to delay freezing their eggs until they are older, which reduces their chances of conceiving due to the declining quality of the eggs.
In a BBC report on the issue, 35-year-old HR manager Sharon Jones spoke on the process and the pressure the 10-year time limit put on her decision to have a child.
“We have a law that goes against what science is telling us – and we are removing that biological chance for women,” Jones said, who has already spent £5,000 in freezing 16 of her eggs.
While she would like to wait longer to meet the right person to start a family with, the 10-year cut-off point for storage means she has considered using her eggs within the next eight and a half years instead.
Many women face the prospect of destroying viable eggs before they are ready to have children because of the 10-year storage time limit. Other difficult choices women face because of this limit include having children before they are ready, having children as a single parent and using sperm donation in order not to waste their eggs, or have their eggs transferred overseas to another fertility clinic to use them at a later date.
With the high cost of IVF treatment and egg storage, women in their 20s (the time it is best to collect eggs) may not be in a financial situation stable enough for them to afford the procedure.
Sarah Norcross, who is the director of PET, claimed the current time limit is a “very clear breach of human rights,” and the charity has begun a campaign to extend the storage limit, beginning with a petition looking for 100,000 signatures to get the matter considered for debate in parliament.
She goes on to say:
It curtails 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 ten years) and is discriminatory against women because of the decline in female fertility with age.”
Sarah Norcross, PET Director
“It is an arbitrary and out-dated 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.”
A spokesperson for The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said:
Whilst any change to the 10-year storage limit would be a matter for parliament as it requires a change in law, the time might be right to look at what a more appropriate storage limit could be in future that recognizes both changes in science and in the way women are considering their fertility.”
The legislation does recognize the pressures it places on women who cryopreserve their eggs, and if women become prematurely infertile or are likely to become infertile before they are ready to use their eggs, a 10-year rolling extension can be applied for up to 55 years.
PET is hoping their campaign will allow these rolling extensions to be applied to social freezing as well, and lift the pressures women are facing when freezing their eggs.
Frozen eggs storage 10-year limit 'should be changed'. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-50182675
Fertility law breaches human rights, claim campaigners calling for a change in legislation. PR Week. https://www.prweek.com/article/1663545/fertility-law-breaches-human-rights-claim-campaigners-calling-change-legislation