30 September 2020
Egg freezing: Nuffield Council supports extending time limit in new report
In a report published today, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent charitable advisory body that reports on ethical issues in bioscience and health, has supported the argument that the legal storage limit for ‘social’ egg freezing should be extended beyond the current 10 years (temporarily 12 years because of covid-19 delays). Specifically, the report concludes that there can be ‘few arguments against increasing this limit’.
Eggs frozen for medical reasons, such as undergoing various cancer treatments, may still be stored for up to 55 years.
While acknowledging the recent increase in the number of women freezing their eggs in the UK, the study also recommends clearer and more readily available advice for women on the success rates of egg freezing, not least since companies in the US are increasingly offering it as an employment incentive.
The main reason cited for women to freeze their eggs is because of concerns around their declining fertility and a lack of a partner with whom to have children. Currently, the average age for women in the UK freezing their eggs is between 37 and 39.
Many practitioners and academics are calling for better understanding of the reality of egg freezing, in that success rate for live births is severely affected by a woman’s age. The optimum age to freeze eggs for a woman would be her late 20s, early 30s.
Joyce Harper, Professor of Reproductive Science at the Institute for Women’s Health, University College London, who is acknowledged in the Nuffield report, says that the absence of data around egg freezing means that we have no reliable information on its success, and that a lack of understanding generally about fertility means women often consider egg freezing when it is too late.
Professor Harper advocates educating women, and men, about fertility in their teens so they can make informed choices about when to have children when they are older. She says an increase in involuntary childlessness and couples having smaller than the desired family size is because women, particularly highly-educated, career-focussed women, are postponing having children, partly due to a lack of fertility awareness.
Dr Moses Batwala, medical director at IVF London, says that most women looking to freeze their eggs are single. In his experience, women tend to be around age 38 when they decide they want to ‘go it alone’, at which point their chances of success have decreased.
Prof Harper believes that once they understand their fertility choices, women have a better chance to ‘have everything’ and to live their best possible lives.
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