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After our campaign, egg storage law comes out of the cold

6 September 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1111

We at the Progress Educational Trust (PET) are delighted that our #ExtendTheLimit campaign, to extend the ten-year storage limit for eggs frozen for non-medical or 'social' reasons, has succeeded – insofar as it now has Government backing (as reported elsewhere on BioNews today).

The UK Government has stated that it plans to extend the maximum storage limit for social egg freezing from ten years to 55 years. This is a very welcome development, and one which will also apply to sperm and embryos – after all, using present-day technology, gametes and embryos are as fit for purpose after 55 years on ice as they are after ten.

Current storage arrangements originated in a time when assisted conception was still novel, and when the cryopreservation of gametes and embryos was still largely experimental. Since the laws governing gamete and embryo storage were drafted, the science of cryopreservation has changed drastically, as have society's attitudes towards fertility preservation and later motherhood. It is ironic, then, that law in this area has itself been seemingly cryopreserved for rather too long.

Today's announcement by the Government follows last year's public consultation on statutory storage limits. One of the ten key principles we set out in our response to that consultation (see BioNews 1046) was that there should be no legal distinction between storage for medical reasons and storage for non-medical reasons, because one patient group should not be characterised as more or less deserving than another. Thankfully, it seems that this distinction will indeed be removed in future, and that the same storage rules will apply across the board.

This in turn will remove the current need to determine who is, or may become, 'prematurely' infertile in relation to storage of gametes or embryos. 'Premature infertility' is a contentious and ill-defined concept at the best of times, with no fixed definition in medicine or in law. References to patients being or becoming 'prematurely infertile' therefore deserve to be made obsolete, at least in the context of storage limits.

Meanwhile, the Government has signalled its intention to retain – indeed, to strengthen – a requirement for patients to renew their consent to storage every ten years. PET welcomes this in principle, but will reserve judgment on how this is implemented until further details are revealed.

Patients must be confident that, if they adhere to the specified renewal process, then ongoing storage of their gametes or embryos is secure. For their part, clinics must be confident that if they adhere to the specified renewal process, and if renewal and reaffirmation are not forthcoming from the patient, then the clinic will eventually be permitted to destroy stored gametes or embryos (rather than being obliged to continue storing them in the absence of clarification from the patient).

Another of our ten key principles – indeed, the first one we set out – was that law and regulation that govern the freezing and storage of gametes and embryos should be drastically simplified. Whether this will come to pass is yet to be seen, but we hope that the Government and the HFEA will seize the opportunity to make some bold changes. PET believes that clinics should not need to consult lawyers routinely in order to make sure they are complying with law and regulation, especially when the associated legal fees will ultimately be passed on to patients.

While we are thrilled to have reached this major milestone, we will not be satisfied until the changes announced today are on the statute book. This needs to happen sooner rather than later, so that no one is disadvantaged by the vagaries of the Parliamentary timetable. We are poised to scrutinise the details of policy in this area, to ensure that we end up with something workable that is a good fit for professionals and patients alike. PET will be holding an event soon to discuss what this should look like, so be sure to keep an eye out for details in BioNews and on our social media channels.

Finally, many thanks to Sharon Jones (who has been the patient face of the #ExtendTheLimit campaign campaign) and to Baroness Ruth Deech (who has kept this issue on Parliament's radar). Thanks also to those of you who donated to PET, so that we could carry out this campaigning work. We still need your support, so please donate what you can to help us finish what we've started and change the law.

Gamete (egg, sperm) and embryo storage limits: response to consultation
Department of Health and Social Care |  6 September 2021
Government consultation response on statutory storage limits for gametes and embryos
UK Parliament |  6 September 2021
Prospective parents given more choice over when to start a family
Department of Health and Social Care |  6 September 2021
13 September 2021 - by BioNews 
As the UK Government announces its intention to extend gamete and embryo storage limits, watch this short film about the campaign that led to this announcement – the #ExtendTheLimit campaign, led by the Progress Educational Trust...
13 September 2021 - by Dr Kylie Baldwin 
After several years of campaigning to #extendthelimit on the storage period of eggs frozen for social reasons, I like many welcomed the recent government announcement to change the maximum storage time from ten years to a maximum of 55 years...
6 September 2021 - by Jen Willows 
The UK government has announced that the ten-year limit on keeping frozen eggs, sperm and embryos will be scrapped...
26 October 2020 - by Dr John B Appleby 
The UK's current law allows human eggs frozen for social reasons to be stored for a maximum of ten years. There are important arguments against this current limit...
5 October 2020 - by Kate Harvey 
Egg freezing is becoming more common in the UK, with a growing number of women deciding to freeze their eggs each year and, outside the UK, some even suggest that the technology has gone mainstream...
11 May 2020 - by Sarah Norcross 
In addition to continuing with its #ExtendTheLimit campaign, PET has developed ten key principles on egg, sperm embryo storage which have informed its response to the UK government's consultation on this area...
27 April 2020 - by Sarah Norcross 
We welcome the UK government's two-year extension to the legal limit on the storage of eggs, sperm and embryos, but more needs to be done for fertility patients during and after the coronavirus pandemic...
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