At the start of 2020, the government announced a review into the current time limits for storing eggs, which currently stands at a maximum of ten years. This review is warmly welcomed by London Egg Bank given that it could have a seismic impact, not just for our patients but for the future of egg freezing in the UK.
In 2018, London Women’s Clinic & London Egg Bank’s Executive Medical Director Peter Bowen-Simpkins published an article in Reproductive BioMedicine Online stating the urgent need to change the law on egg storage. As the largest provider of social egg freezing in the UK with more than 20,000 eggs stored at present, this is something we have been campaigning about for some time, as we have seen firsthand the impact that this change could have for our patients.
Egg freezing: the law as it stands
The current law was introduced by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1990, which stated that eggs can only be stored for a maximum of ten years. After this date, they must be destroyed, even though it has been acknowledged in various medical studies and in the House of Lords that there is no evidence that frozen eggs lose their viability after ten years. The one exception at present is that extensions can be granted if the woman being treated is prematurely infertile or likely to become so, for example due to cancer treatment. These women, known as medical egg freezers, can be granted 10 year extensions up to 55 years in total.
The law was implemented at a time when egg freezing methods were not as efficient as they are today, meaning that survival rates for frozen eggs were lower. Since then, advances in vitrification mean that survival rates for frozen eggs are often above 90%, making the 10 year limit seem increasingly arbitrary. Many women who have made the decision to freeze their eggs in their early twenties are faced with the frustrating and heart-breaking decision to destroy those eggs once they reach their early thirties.
While some women will explore alternatives, such as transporting their eggs to an overseas destination or having hem fertilised with donor sperm and then stored as embryos, many do not wish to do this.
What an extension could mean
The government consultation focuses on an increase in the storage limits for frozen eggs, as well as frozen sperm and embryos. It is no secret that many women feel compelled to have children at a later date than previous generations due to career commitments, increased cost of living or finding a suitable partner. By increasing the time limit for eggs – for example, from 10 years to 20 or 30 years – women are able to freeze their eggs and choose to start a family at a point in their life which suits them, as opposed to trying to fit everything into a ten year window (especially if a woman wishes to have more than one child). The Department of Health & Social Care is inviting members of the public to contribute to the consultation, answering 21 questions about individuals’ views on storage limits. The consultation can be accessed here and will close on 5th May 2020.