12 September 2016
ByAppeared in BioNews 868
A study of women opting to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons has revealed that the most common motivation given was not yet finding the right partner.
Kylie Baldwin, a researcher at De Montfort University in Leicester, interviewed 31 heterosexual women from the UK, US and Norway, aged between 32 and 44, who had decided to freeze their eggs, asking their reasons for doing so. Contrary to some of the perceptions that surround 'social' egg freezing, the results showed that not one of the participants said that they had opted to freeze their eggs for career reasons.
Presenting the findings at the British Science Festival, Baldwin explained that for these women 'it was about finding the right potential father for their child – a male partner who was committed to parenthood, who was going to perform that role of the hands-on father and would share ... the pleasures and pains of upbringing equally.'
The ability to freeze women's eggs was initially introduced for female cancer patients who ran the risk of losing their fertility during treatment. However, the technique is now being co-opted, with women across the UK choosing to do so for non-medical reasons. This trend is increasing continually, with 816 women choosing to freeze eggs in 2014 compared to just 29 in 2001, according to the most recent data (reported in BioNews 845).
However, there remain risks associated with egg freezing. Evidence suggests many women don't freeze their eggs until their fertility has already begun to decline more sharply (the average age at women freeze their eggs is 38), and this – paired with the difficulties of pregnancy later in life – means that women who have invested in freezing their eggs won't always achieve a successful pregnancy. Since 2001, 3676 British women have frozen their eggs, but fewer than 60 babies have been born to them.
Professor Robert Winston, chairman of the Genesis Research Trust, explains that many women who use this technology still have 'very little practical chance of a baby in most instances'.
Commenting on the latest study, Professor Emily Jackson at the London School of Economics told the Guardian that the results were consistent with other data emerging on egg freezing, but that it did not mean egg freezing is 'not entirely unrelated to work, in the sense that the reason why one might find oneself 38 and single might have something to do with what career conditions were like in one's 20s'.
Professor Jackson also points out that the ten-year statutory time limit on egg storage, which she has recently called on to be abolished (see also BioNews 868), means that while storing eggs earlier might be clinically sensible, they may not be available for use later on in life.
Baldwin also added that 'it is quite dangerous to start suggesting that by medicalising a social problem we can cure it.'
'If you've not met your partner, you've not met your partner, but I think it is a really bad message to give out that actually now we can get round this by egg freezing, because the majority of those women will still not have a baby,' she said.