Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_142043

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.'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
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
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