The current limit of ten years applies to most frozen embryos and gametes and will be replaced by storage periods that can be renewed every ten years up to a maximum of 55 years.
Health minister Sajid Javid said: 'The current storage arrangements can be severely restrictive for those making the important decision about when to start a family, and this new legislation will help turn off the ticking clock in the back of people's minds.'
The current law allows eggs, sperm or embryos belonging to patients who are judged to be 'prematurely infertile' or likely to become so – such as people freezing eggs or sperm prior to cancer treatment – to be kept for up to 55 years. The proposed legislation would do away with this distinction between those who are and are not 'prematurely infertile' and treat all patients equally.
Every ten years patients will be given the choice to continue with storage, or to donate or dispose of their gametes or embryos.
'Technological advances mean that storage of reproductive material is a safe and effective way of protecting fertility for many individuals,' said Dr Raj Mathur, chair of the British Fertility Society. 'This change ensures that UK regulation is compliant with the scientific evidence about the safety of storage, and protects the ability of all our patients to make reproductive choices for themselves as individuals and couples.'
The Progress Educational Trust (PET) – the charity that publishes BioNews – launched its #ExtendTheLimit campaign in 2019, asking Parliament to address the law on egg freezing time limits (see BioNews 1022).
'We are delighted that the Government has seen fit to make the changes we campaigned for,' said PET's director Sarah Norcross. 'Extending the ten-year storage limit on social egg freezing will enable the exercise of reproductive choice, freeing women from the constraints of an outdated, discriminatory and unscientific law, and the threat of having their eggs destroyed against their will or being forced to become a mother before they are ready to do so.'
The change will require new legislation, and so when it becomes law will be dependent on the Parliamentary schedule. However, all patients with frozen gametes or embryos have already been given a two-year extension, due to the disruption to fertility services during the COVID-19 pandemic (see BioNews 1044).