Fertility has come a long way since the first successful in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment back in 1978. Conception options have equally advanced at a rapid rate, with a whole variety of treatment options available to women, including the over 40s, single mothers and lesbian couples as the industry continues to evolve. At The London Women's Clinic Group, this includes lessening the risks of multiple pregnancies through single embryo transfers with IVF One by One, as well as reducing the burden and side effects that can often come with fertility treatments, through IVF Lite.
These developments have led to record numbers of babies being born every year across the world, with the fertility industry bringing hope to many who are struggling to conceive naturally. However, the rate in which the industry is evolving is not being matched by the current statutory UK law on egg freezing and the legal storage limits which govern the length of time the eggs can be stored. This law needs to be changed, given that it is based on outdated knowledge and old technology which has since moved on. It also has the potential to interfere with a women's right to have a child when she is financially and psychologically ready.
In 1990 the 10-year storage period for egg freezing was put into UK law, which permits women to freeze their eggs and store them for 10 years only, before they are destroyed. This was introduced to avoid overcrowding in egg banks, and at the time it was unknown whether there was an 'expiry date' on frozen eggs. At this point in time, the 10-year limit had seemed entirely satisfactory because the technology was unreliable, and the uptake on egg freezing was expected to be minimal. There was also less evidence in place to suggest that a growing number of women would consider delaying motherhood into their 40s, which has become extremely popular in recent years.
One such example of how technology has since transformed the egg freezing arena, is the outstanding success of the rapid freezing technique called 'egg vitrification'. This is the latest example of a significant scientific development in IVF that now necessitates a review of the 10-year limit for stored eggs. The new technique has now all but replaced the old 'slow freezing' method that was expensive and resulted in poor survival rates. Vitrified eggs can be stored without loss of viability and upon thawing they almost invariably produce 80-90% survival rates and, in experienced hands, produce good quality embryos for IVF transfers. Furthermore, with more and more clinics offering egg freezing, there are also a whole host of storage options available throughout the UK.
The current law also conflicts with current knowledge and recommendations in the fertility industry. It is advised by fertility specialists that women who want to freeze their eggs, should do so as early as possible to ensure the best quality. However, with the law in place, if a woman freezes her eggs at 28 years old, she must use them by the time she turns 38 or they will be destroyed. This puts undue pressure on women to make life changing decisions about their fertility, when there are no other compelling reasons for them to do so.
In our own practice we encounter more and more women who are coming to the end of their 10-year storage limit, who are expressing that they wish they could "have just 5 more years", but instead are being faced with their eggs being prematurely thawed out and destroyed. I propose that instead, egg freezing restrictions should be based on a women's age, rather than the age of her eggs, and her ability to have a pregnancy that is safe for both mother and baby.
There's no denying that this law needs to change and must reflect the advancements and progressions being made in the fertility industry. The next 20 years of fertility treatment promises to be extremely exciting, and it will be fascinating to see how women's aspirations continue to grow and how medical technology can match their expectations. However, it is clear that the law must keep up with the fertility industry's developments and changes in society.