Fertility experts call for ditching of UK’s 10-year limit on egg-freezing | Society

Fertility experts have urged the government to overturn “discriminatory” fertility rules that require women who freeze their eggs to use them within 10 years.

Beyond this limit, clinics are compelled to destroy the eggs even if this goes against the woman’s wishes. The only exception is for women who are prematurely infertile.

During the past decade, thousands of women have paid to freeze their eggs, normally because they want children in the future but are not in a long-term relationship. However, an increasing number are having to decide between losing their chance of having a baby, or fertilising their eggs using donor sperm.

Lady Ruth Deech, who is campaigning to change this rule, met the health minister Jackie Doyle-Price on Monday to call on the government to support a change of existing fertility laws, which would not require any new primary legislation.

“It bears down very harshly on the growing numbers of women who enter their 30s, start to worry about not having a baby, freeze their eggs and then realise in their 40s that the eggs have reached their 10-year limit,” she said. “The cost is extortionate and the psychological pressure is debilitating. They know the eggs are going to be destroyed if they don’t find a man.”

Campaigners say the law has not kept up with technological progress, including an egg-freezing technique called vitrification that allows eggs to be stored almost indefinitely without deteriorating. The technique was introduced widely a decade ago, prompting a steep increase in “social” egg-freezing, which means an increasing number of women are affected by the 10-year limit.

Current legislation means that those who freeze their eggs or sperm due to premature infertility may have them preserved for 55 years. Clinics already have medical restrictions on the age at which women qualify to undergo IVF treatment.

“It’s quite clear that the 10-year limit is arbitrary and arguably discriminatory,” said Deech.

One woman, called Carolyn, who is 47 and lives in London, paid £10,000 to freeze her eggs 10 years ago. Since freezing her eggs, she conceived a daughter naturally and is almost sure she does not want to use her eggs for IVF, but is not ready to commit to that decision. To prevent her eggs from being destroyed later this year, she is arranging for them to be shipped to Spain at a cost of £1,500.

Carolyn said current rules work against women who want to take logical steps to improve their chances of having children.

“We’re told that if we are going to freeze our eggs we should do so young enough when the eggs are in good condition,” she said. “Perhaps a good age to freeze them is 25 or 30, but if you have to destroy them after 10 years, that’s nuts. The scientifically sensible thing to do is totally contradictory with the law.”

Another woman in her early 40s, who wished to remain anonymous, froze her eggs at 35 and now has two and a half years left before her eggs reach the time-limit.

“I’m in a relationship now but it’s still too early for children, though I dearly hope that might change,” she said. “If the law doesn’t change, and I was in the same situation, I guess my only option – apart from having them destroyed – is to fertilise them with donor sperm, which I really don’t want to do. If I’d wanted to have a child on my own with an anonymous donor, I would have done it years ago.”

HFEA figures show the number of women in the UK opting to freeze their eggs has increased from fewer than 300 in 2010 to 1,300 in 2016. However, there were fewer than 200 thawing cycles each year until 2015, meaning that thousands of women have frozen eggs but have yet to use them.

The government has said an extension “would be a significant policy change”.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act is considered a matter of conscience and therefore a free vote. The government has no plans to reconsider this legislation at this time.”


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