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First legal challenge to 10-year limit on egg freezing

18 March 2019
Appeared in BioNews 991

A group of women is bringing the UK's first legal challenge to the ten-year limit on preserving frozen eggs

The women had their eggs frozen nearly ten years ago and wish to continue to preserve them in order to start a family in the future. Lawyers representing the group have advised that the ten-year limit may breach their human right to a private and family life. 

'My frozen eggs represent my last chance of having a child that is biologically my own, and the clinic has told me they will be destroyed in a matter of months,' said one of the women, named only as Andi. 'It is hard to describe the sense of bereavement and turmoil that comes with being told that your eggs will be destroyed.'

The legislation, part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, states that frozen eggs must be fertilised and used to create an embryo within ten years, otherwise they must be destroyed. If a woman becomes prematurely infertile, this limit can be extended to 55 years. In practice, women can also get around the 10-year limit by taking their frozen eggs to a clinic outside the UK which is not subject to the same restrictions. 

About ten years ago, a technique called vitrification was developed, allowing eggs to be preserved almost indefinitely. The women involved in this case were among the first to have their eggs frozen by vitrification. 

'There have been significant medical advances and social progress since the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 passed through parliament but the rules relating to non-medical egg freezing have not changed,' said Salima Budhani, a solicitor acting for the group, who has previously written in BioNews about the ten-year limit

'The issues arising for women who are facing the storage limit clearly fall within the remit of human rights law, which protects the right to private and family life, and the unduly restrictive time limit is very likely vulnerable to challenge,' she said. 

The women have started a crowdfunding campaign to cover their legal costs. 

The former chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Baroness Ruth Deech, has called the ten-year limit arbitrary, and possibly discriminatory and debilitating for women (see BioNews 984 and 988). 

'Many women long to preserve their chances of motherhood. A simple change to the law would give them this hope,' Baroness Deech said. 'It is wrong to destroy their future plans on the basis of an arbitrary storage time limit. The government must surely show humanity and common sense and bring the law into line with modern times.'

Egg Freezing - legal fund launched to fight 'arbitrary and outdated' time limit on storage of women's eggs
Bindmans LLP |  15 March 2019
Woman in first legal challenge against UK's 10-year limit on egg-freezing
The Guardian |  15 March 2019
16 December 2019 - by Dr Molly Godfrey 
Children born from IVF using frozen embryos may have a slightly higher chance of developing childhood cancers, according to a new large-scale study, though the overall risk remains low...
11 November 2019 - by Dr Catherine Hill 
The Progress Educational Trust's (PET's) #ExtendTheLimit campaign to extend the ten-year storage limit for social egg freezing gathered over 1000 signatures to its online petition in its first week...
4 November 2019 - by Georgia Everett 
The Progress Educational Trust (PET) has launched its #ExtendTheLimit campaign, asking the UK public to sign an online petition requiring Parliament to address the law on egg freezing time limits...
9 September 2019 - by Rachel Siden 
Following the viral Facebook post of an Egyptian woman who announced that she had frozen her eggs, Egypt's Islamic legislature Dar Al-Ifta announced that egg freezing is permissible within Islam under certain conditions...
10 June 2019 - by Jen Willows 
A bill that aims to extend the time limit that eggs and sperm can be kept frozen has been introduced in the UK's House of Lords…
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...
25 February 2019 - by Dr Yvonne Collins 
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...
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...
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