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10-year egg freezing limit should be scrapped, ethics body says

10-year egg freezing limit should be scrapped because women feel under pressure to use them before time runs out, ethnics body warns

  • Current deadline is decade, after which families must have baby or destroy eggs 
  • UK’s ethics body said no good reason not to extend the ‘arbitrary’ freeze limit
  • Claims some private clinics have preyed on women through online adverts 

The 10-year limit for storing women’s eggs for social reasons should be extended to give people more time and options, according to Britain’s ethics body.

Currently, people can only store their eggs or sperm for a decade, after which they must either go through with fertility treatment or destroy them.

Nuffield Council on Bioethics said there is no good reason not to extend the freezing time and claim the arbitrary 10-year limit puts pressure on people to have a baby they are not ready for.  

It claimed some private fertility services in the UK have preyed on anxious women through Prosecco-fuelled marketing events and targeted online adverts. 

The Government has been assessing the rule since February, although its not clear when a decision will be made either way. 

Experts have raised concerns that some women are being forced to travel abroad and use substandard healthcare to get around the 10-year rule. 

The NHS only funds egg freezing for medical reasons – in advance of cancer treatment, for example. People who get the procedure on the health service can apply to have them stored for up to 55 years.

But people who do it for social reasons need to go private and pay around £8,000 on average.  

The 10-year limit for storing women’s eggs for social reasons should be extended to give people more time and options, according to Britain’s ethics body (file) 

Egg freezing dates back to 1986 when the first pregnancy from a frozen egg was reported in the Lancet Journal. 

Collected eggs were preserved in cryogenic tanks after being frozen ‘slowly’ for many years. 

In the early 2000s, scientists began experimenting with an ‘ultra-rapid’ freezing technique called vitrification. 

Using this process, the temperature of an egg plummets thousands of degrees per minute, resulting in a glass-like cell structure that is stronger than other crystalline ice forms. 

They are then stored in cryogenic tanks, for up to 25 years. 

In preparation for having her eggs retrieved, a woman must undergo the first stage of an IVF cycle, which uses hormones to stimulate more eggs into maturity, then another set of hormones to trigger the eggs’ release. 

Patients inject these drugs at home and are usually closely monitored by their doctors.  

There are many different forms of these hormone treatments, ranging in cost from about $800 (£625) to $6,000 (£4,675) per cycle, and six to 10 weeks in duration.

Then, the eggs are surgically retrieved in a minimally-invasive procedure.  

Dr John Appleby, lecturer in medical ethics at Lancaster University, said: ‘The UK’s 10-year egg freezing rule for social egg freezing is not fit for purpose and this briefing highlights how we have very little reason for maintaining it any longer.’

Sarah Norcross, from the assisted conception debate group Progress Educational Trust, said: ‘With more women than ever choosing to freeze their eggs, it is time for the law to be changed.’

Frances Flinter, Nuffield Council member and emeritus professor of clinical genetics at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘It’s vital for women thinking about freezing their eggs to be able to make informed choices.

‘To do this, they need easy access to data on their chances of success across various stages of the process – from freezing and thawing eggs, to having a live birth. But they also need clinics to be frank about the process, and about what is known and unknown about egg freezing.’

There has also been a rise in companies offering to pay for women to freeze their eggs which is ‘concerncing’, Nuffield said.  

While it may work as a ‘gender equaliser’ in some cases and boost women’s salaries, it could also pressure women to delay parenthood to show commitment to the company, it warned.   

Women who have IVF after freezing their eggs have about a one in five chance of conceiving after the procedure, according to latest estimates. 

The Newcastle Fertility Centre, behind the study, analysed all IVF births going back 15 years using data from the UK’s fertility regulator.

IVF births in the mid-2000s skew the success rate (18 per cent) because techniques have vastly improved since then.

But experts say the finding should serve as a warning to women that the procedure could take five attempts before working.  

The vast majority who go through the procedure do so in their late 30s – by which time they have very little chance of success.

Specialists fear fertility clinics encourage women to delay motherhood for too long, by offering them the safety net of egg freezing. 

Figures show two-thirds of women who freeze their eggs in Britain do not do so until they are over the age of 35.  

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