Ten year limit on storage for IVF eggs ‘disciminatory’ says pressure group
Mr James Nicopoullos, Medical Director and Consultant Gynaecologist at The Lister Fertility Clinic (part of HCA Healthcare UK), comments.
A campaign group has called for UK women to be allowed to store their frozen eggs for longer than 10 years.
The Progress Educational Trust (PET) said the current time frame can mean that women are forced to decide whether to destroy their eggs – or become a mother before they are ready.
A director at PET said that the 10-year rule is a “very clear breach of human rights” and “is discriminatory against women because of the decline in female fertility with age.”
Mr James Nicopoullos responds: “The increasing interest in egg freezing as a viable option to preserve fertility over the last decade stems from the combination of what we have always known about the biological clock, coupled with recent socially driven increases in the average age of women in their first pregnancy in the UK (average of over 30 in 2013; over 20 per cent of babies are now born to mothers over 35) and a significant improvement in success rates with the introduction of the improved rapid freeing techniques (vitrification).
“As both egg quality and quantity decrease with age, the younger you freeze, the better, as it “locks in” the quality of a woman’s eggs at that age. You tend to produce more eggs and as the quality is better, fewer may be needed to be frozen to give a good chance of success in the future.
“The arbitrary limit of 10 years that exists in current legislation either prevents women from freezing them at a time that is most effective, or leaves a number of women with the unenviable choice of either disposing of these eggs, considering pregnancy at a time that’s not ideal, creating embryos with donor sperm or trying to export eggs overseas if 10 years have passed. If you delay freezing eggs until later, more medical intervention is required and a higher financial burden is placed on woman for what could be a worse outcome.
“The 10-year limit for “social freezing” has no scientific basis and could be deemed discriminatory, as it is at odds with the limit for women who might be deemed to become “prematurely” infertile, who can store their eggs for up to 55 years.
“We fully support the PET campaign and petition to extend storage limits and, alongside colleagues across the country, have as a group of clinicians at The Lister Fertility Clinic (part of HCA Healthcare UK) countersigned a letter to the UK Fertility Bodies encouraging the field to work together to encourage change.
“There is increasing pressure on parliament and the HFEA to consider change but this may still become a long and drawn-out process, with no guarantee of success. For those where the 10-year storage limit is of no concern, we would recommend proceeding with fertility preservation without delay but for those perhaps at a younger age who may be impacted and for whom a short delay is less likely to significantly impact outcome, sitting tight to await the outcome of such a campaign may be sensible.
“Legislation is unlikely to be retrospective, so this change may not benefit those who have already frozen their eggs.
“For anyone considering fertility preservation, the key is firstly to maximise information upon which to make an informed decision by assessing egg reserves with appropriate tests (scan to assess follicle count and AMH hormonal blood test) and review with an experienced reproductive medicine specialist to help decide whether it is the right thing for you, what your other options may be and how successful it may be. The support of an experienced counselling team to help with the decision making is also essential and that is something we offer to who see us free of charge.”