Current law generally permits frozen eggs, sperm and embryos to be stored for a maximum of ten years, after which patients must choose either to attempt a pregnancy, destroy the frozen material, or transfer it overseas for fertility treatment abroad. The ten year limit has been criticised (see BioNews 1021) as outdated, arbitrary, and especially harmful to women who freeze their eggs to increase their chances of having a baby later in life.
'Currently, under UK law patients are able to store their frozen eggs for longer than ten years but only if they have a medical reason for freezing them, such as before they undergo cancer treatment that will damage their fertility. Yet the factors that affect when someone may wish to use their frozen eggs are the same, irrespective of why they were frozen in the first place. This restriction on the length of time one group of women are permitted to keep their eggs in storage compared with another is discriminatory and illogical,' Dr Jane Stewart, Chair of the British Fertility Society, told BioNews.
The number of women choosing to freeze their eggs has increased by 257 percent in the last five years. There were 1462 egg freezing cycles in 2017 compared with 410 in 2012, and four out of five of these women are freezing their eggs for non-medical reasons, data suggests.
For women freezing their eggs, the viability of eggs is at its highest in a woman's early twenties, therefore eggs frozen at this time will have the best chance of leading to a successful pregnancy. However, under the current law, these frozen eggs would need to be either used or discarded in a woman's early to mid-thirties, before she may be ready to become pregnant.
PET's Director Sarah Norcross called the existing storage limit 'a very clear breach of human rights,' and added: 'it limits women's reproductive choices, harms women's chances of becoming biological mothers, does not have any scientific basis (eggs remain viable if frozen for longer than ten years) and is discriminatory against women because of the decline in female fertility with age.'
The consultation is available until 5 May 2020.