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No scientific basis for ten-year egg freezing limit, says minister

25 February 2019
Appeared in BioNews 988

Baroness Nicola Blackwood, junior minister for innovation in the Department of Health and Social Care has acknowledged that there is a lack of evidence to back up the current time limit on egg freezing. 

'My information is that there was no scientific or biological basis for the ten-year limit,' said Baroness Blackwood during a House of Lords debate on frozen egg storage on 20 February

Former chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), Baroness Ruth Deech, began the exchange by asking the government to review current legislation set out in the 2008 HFE Act, which limits the storage of frozen eggs to ten years unless a specific medical condition or treatment threatens fertility. 

Baroness Deech is campaigning to extend the limit, which she has previously called 'arbitrary' and 'debilitating' (see BioNews 984), to allow women more control over their fertility.

Campaigners argue that the present law is discriminatory and is not aligned with the scientific evidence. Baroness Deech said: 'The storage period of ten years for frozen eggs was set when little was known about the science.'

A decade ago, a freezing technique called vitrification was introduced, allowing eggs to be stored almost indefinitely without deteriorating. This prompted a rise in 'social' egg freezing. As the storage limit approaches, an increasing number of women are facing the prospect of having their eggs destroyed, except for those at risk of becoming prematurely infertile. In this case, frozen eggs can be stored for 55 years.

Baroness Blackwood continued to outline that the ten-year limit was based entirely on 'debate and discussion of societal, ethical and cultural considerations and on the concern that without a maximum limit, there would be questions about storage banks'.

However, Baroness Blackwood indicated that a change to the rule would not happen in the immediate future.

'The ten-year limit remains under review but I do not think that replacing it through regulation in the simple way the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, suggested would be appropriate,' said Baroness Blackwood. 'It would need to be dealt with in primary legislation and we would need to make time for that in the House. At the moment, that is not a realistic prospect.'

Baroness Rosie Boycott summed up: 'This [change in legislation] is about extending women's rights to their fertility, women's rights to work and women's rights to plan their lives… the science is with us; it is only the culture and the politics that are against us.'

Human Fertilisation and Embryology: Frozen Eggs Storage
Hansard |  20 February 2019
Wednesday 20 February 2019
Parliament TV |  20 February 2019
18 March 2019 - by Martha Henriques 
A group of women is bringing the UK's first legal challenge to the ten-year limit on preserving frozen eggs...
18 March 2019 - by Dr Yvonne Collins 
A survey by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has found that 44 percent of women aged 18-24 would consider freezing their eggs in the future...
25 February 2019 - by Salima Budhani and Theodora Middleton 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 requires that human gametes (eggs and sperm) and embryos collected and stored by fertility clinics be destroyed after ten years, except in cases of premature infertility. This time limit applies to women often referred to as 'social' egg freezers irrespective of the age of the woman when the ten-year limit is reached; it applies equally to women who froze eggs when aged 25 and those who froze eggs at 45...
28 January 2019 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Fertility experts are campaigning for the UK government to review current legislation which means women who freeze their eggs must use them within 10 years...
7 January 2019 - by Eleanor Taylor 
It has been ten years since the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act was updated in 2008. Over the past ten years the laws governing fertility treatment and legal parenthood have remained largely static. But society has continued to evolve at a rapid pace...
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