Time to change the law about frozen eggs
You may have seen the news yesterday about fertility experts and campaigners putting pressure on the government to change the law about the length of time women can store their frozen eggs. Currently, this storage time limit is ten years for women who freeze their eggs for social reasons.
At the London Women’s Clinic, we are the largest provider of egg freezing in the UK, and we believe this storage limit needs to change. We welcome this debate to increase the length of time beyond ten years.
What’s the current legal situation with egg freezing?
Current legislation in the UK states that eggs frozen for ‘social reasons’ can only be stored for up to ten years, and if they have not been used for IVF treatment by then, they should be destroyed. The only exception to this rule is if doctors find a medical reason for a woman to be infertile - if this happens, frozen eggs can be stored for up to 55 years.
This storage limit was introduced in 1990 in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. At this time, the ‘slow egg freezing’ technique meant survival rates for thawed eggs were not good enough, so a ten-year storage limit seemed accurate. In 2008, an amendment to this Act allowed women who were ‘likely to become prematurely infertile’ to extend their egg storage time up to 55 years.
Vitrification – a process to improve the survival of frozen eggs
The latest freezing method of ‘vitrification’ which rapidly freezes eggs to minus 196 degrees stops harmful ice crystals forming which happens during the ‘slow freezing’ method. This means survival rates for eggs frozen using this vitrification method are very high – in our clinic, survival rates are now up to 96 per cent.
This means that patients freezing their eggs today will have a much better chance of having a successful pregnancy following egg freezing than they may have had in the past.
Why does the law need to change?
Because fertility starts to decline in women in their mid-thirties, the best time for a young woman to freeze her eggs would be during her mid-twenties or sooner. Under the current policy, these women would need to use their frozen eggs in their mid-thirties. At this time, they may not be ready for a family. They may have to make the difficult decision to either create embryos using a sperm donor (if they were not with a long-term partner they wanted a family with) or consider transporting their eggs to a foreign country where the laws are different.
Emily Jackson, Professor of Law at the London School of Economics highlighted a campaign for change in 2016, and this was followed by a request by MP Tonia Antoniazzi in 2017. The Minister for Health’s responded to say there were no current plans to change the law at present.
At the London Women’s Clinic, we believe that the ten-year storage limit is too short for healthy young women to preserve their fertility. We believe there is also an inequality in human rights - in egg storage provision for women and storage of sperm for men. Eggs frozen with the latest vitrification technique will have the same chance of pregnancy success now as fresh eggs. You can read more about our position on egg storage limits here.
More women are considering egg freezing
More women are freezing their eggs than ever before. A recent study conducted by Dr Zeynep Gurtin from the Institute for Women’s Health at UCL using data from the London Women's Clinic shows a dramatic increase in the number of egg freezing cycles being carried out between 2012 and 2016, and figures more than doubling in the latest two years. Three-quarters of women taking part in this study were freezing their eggs for social reasons.
Talk to us about egg freezing
We are the largest provider of egg freezing in the UK and have been providing egg freezing treatment for over a decade. The first step for women considering freezing their eggs is to find out more about their fertility by having a fertility check of “Fertility MOT”. This involves a blood test and having a pelvic ultrasound scan to assess your ovarian reserve. These results, as well as your age and medical history, will give your doctor a good indication of your fertility to help you make decisions about the future and whether egg freezing might be recommended.
For more information about egg freezing at the London Women’s Clinic, please call us on 020 7563 4309 or attend one of our free seminars.