A researcher who campaigned to extend the time egg embryos can be stored has welcomed the Government’s decision to increase the period to 55 years.
Dr Kylie Baldwin, who researches women’s experiences of egg freezing and delayed motherhood at The Centre for Reproduction Research at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), said the move would “allow women more time to find the right partner to have a child without the pressure of an artificial deadline.”
Currently, eggs frozen for so-called ‘social’ reasons, such as the lack of a partner, can only be stored for a maximum of 10 years.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic a two-year extension was given to those who currently had eggs in storage, but following a public consultation last year, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have now said it will increase the statutory storage limits for eggs, sperm and embryos (regardless of the reason for storage) to a 10-year renewable storage period up to a maximum of 55 years.
Under the new system in most circumstances, prospective parents will be given the option at 10-year intervals to keep or dispose of frozen eggs, sperm and embryos until 55 years has passed.
This change, the DHSC says, will allow people “greater reproductive choice and less pressured decision-making for parents thinking about when to start a family”.
In her research, Dr Baldwin has examined the reasons women choose to freeze their eggs, carrying out numerous interviews in the process.
Welcoming the Government’s extension, she countered concerns she had heard raised that increasing the time limit eggs can be stored would lead to a rise in older mothers.
She said: “I am confident that this change in the law will not see vast numbers of women electing to have children for the first time in their fifth or six decade of life.
“The typical user of egg freezing is usually in her mid to late 30s, she is nearly always single and has most often wanted to have a child for several years prior to freezing her eggs but has not had a partner with whom to do so
“In freezing their eggs, these women are hoping to allow themselves more time to find the right partner to have a child. In many cases this might be a few years, but for some women it might be longer and the presence of an arbitrary 10-year time limit on the storage of their eggs has been distressing for many women.”
But she also warned against using the longer time limits to aggressively market the procedure to younger women in their early 20s.
She said: “Like all forms of fertility treatment, egg freezing isn’t without risk but is uncomfortable, invasive and very often painful, not to mention expensive.
“Furthermore, while freezing eggs from younger women may be optimal biologically speaking, younger women are much less likely to ever need their eggs to conceive and instead have a greater chance of having a child naturally.
“As such, widespread egg freezing in a woman’s 20s is not something I would want to see.”
You can learn more about Dr Baldwin’s research on social egg freezing via her monograph on this topic which is free to download here.
Posted on Tuesday 7th September 2021