Increasing numbers of women in the UK are facing the stark choice of having to destroy their frozen eggs or become a mother before they are ready to do so because of an outdated law. Progress Educational Trust's (PET's) #ExtendTheLimit campaign aims to change this bleak outlook and to improve women's reproductive options by calling for the law governing the storage of gametes and embryos to be amended to allow women freezing their eggs for social (non-medical) reasons to store them for more than ten years.
If a woman wants to try to preserve her fertility, the optimal time to freeze her eggs is in her twenties and early thirties but, under current UK law, women who freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons can only store them for ten years. This means if a woman freezes her eggs when she is 28 she has to be ready to use them before she is 38.
If a woman isn't ready to use her eggs at the end of the ten-year storage period, she faces some tough choices: to have her eggs destroyed, and with them perhaps her best or only chance of becoming a biological mother; to become a parent before she is ready to do so, either with a partner or as a solo mum via sperm donation, or to try to fund the transfer of her eggs to a fertility clinic overseas and have fertility treatment abroad at a later date.
PET's #ExtendTheLimit campaign is calling on the Government to show compassion and extend the ten-year storage limit for social egg freezing. We want you to show your support by signing the #ExtendTheLimit petition at https://tinyurl.com/extendthelimit – gathering 100,000 signatures will mean the Government has to debate a change in the law at Westminster.
Just a minor amendment is necessary to remove this cruel legislation and will give so many women hope for a fertile future and prevent them having to destroy their eggs when they still want to use them. Baroness Ruth Deech has been leading the charge on this issue in the House of Lords.
Why should the law limit women's reproductive choice in this way? Who would be harmed by a 38-year-old woman extending the storage period so that she can use her eggs when she is 40 or 44?
The ten-year storage limit could amount to a breach of human rights: it harms women's chances of becoming biological mothers, does not have any scientific basis (eggs remain viable if cryopreserved for more than ten years) and is discriminatory against women because of the decline in female fertility with age. It is an arbitrary and outdated piece of legislation that does not reflect improvements in egg freezing techniques and changes in society which push women to have children later in life.
PET does not want to replace one arbitrary time limit with another one, so we are not asking for a specific time period for social egg freezing to be included in any amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.
The current legislation recognises that the ten-year storage limit lacks flexibility, and it allows for extensions in certain scenarios. Ten-year extensions can be granted if the person who provided the gamete, or the person who is being treated, is prematurely infertile or likely to become prematurely infertile; hence women and men undergoing cancer treatment (or gender reassignment) can qualify for rolling ten-year extensions up to a maximum of 55 years.
In 2008 PET successfully campaigned for extensions to the storage limit so that a woman can store her eggs for 55 years for the future use of her daughter, if the daughter is likely to be infertile (for example, where the daughter has Turner Syndrome).
PET is calling for a change to the legislation which will create an option for extending the storage limit that works for 'social' egg freezers, in the same way that the 'premature infertile' exception works for 'medical' egg freezers. One solution would be an option for extension if the woman has not yet completed her family; another would be to create an option for extension which would be available to anyone who 'is infertile or is likely to become infertile'; this would include all women.
Change is needed now because the proportion of women affected by this outdated legislation is increasing rapidly. Figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) reveal the number of women freezing their eggs more than tripled in the last five years. However, the current ten-year storage limit acts as a perverse incentive for women to delay freezing their eggs until their mid-to-late 30s when egg quality is declining and a woman's chance of becoming a biological mother has reduced – latest HFEA data shows two-thirds of UK women freezing their eggs are over 35. In this way, the ten-year storage limit promotes poor clinical practice – women seeking fertility preservation treatment in their late 30s or 40s typically need more ovarian stimulation and fertility treatment cycles to have a chance at success.
Please sign the petition today at https://tinyurl.com/extendthelimit and share the link far and wide – PET needs to hit 100,000 signatures. With your help, we can do this, change the law and give more women the hope of a fertile future.
Do you know women who may be willing to act as case studies – happy to speak with the media about their experience of egg freezing or facing the ten-year storage limit? If so, please ask them to contact PET's head of communications Catherine Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for your support. Together, we can #ExtendTheLimit.