Human Egg Freezing Time Limit

Is The Time Up For Egg Freezing Time Limit?

The first ever successful birth from IVF in the UK took place on the 25th July 1978 and since, there have been over five million babies born thanks to the procedure.   

IVF will be a last resort to many who have normally faced years trying to conceive naturally, however there are many that will be unable to get the chance to use their stored eggs due to the time limit of 10 years under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authorisation (HFEA) Act 1990.

The time limit imposed 30 years ago, means that unless there are certain circumstances, a woman’s eggs can be stored for a maximum of 10 years. 

For ‘social’ egg freezing (whereby there is no medical reason that a woman may require the eggs frozen), women are advised that the best time to do so is in her mid-20s.   

The average age of a first-time mother in the UK is 30, meaning that there will be many women who have chosen to freeze their eggs, who will not be ready to use them before the date of expiry.   

This could be for a variety of reasons, for example that she wished to ensure the health of her eggs but is still not ready to start a family in her mid-30s, or she has not yet met a partner with whom she wants children.   

This would mean that the mother to be faces the unenviable decision of either having the eggs destroyed, the eggs fertilised with the aid of a sperm donor and refreezing the embryo or moving them abroad.   

With the cost of freezing eggs averaging £8,000, there is no guarantee that the thawed eggs will result in a successful pregnancy but doing so at an earlier age will increase the chance. 

The outdated time limit adds extra pressure on women wishing to preserve their fertility; they can choose to increase their chances of having a viable egg later in life, but gamble that they will be ready to use it within the 10 years.  

In 2008 an amendment was made to the Act, that enabled a woman who has her eggs frozen due to a medical condition that results in infertility, the time limit is extended to 55 years.  Therefore, this would suggest that time limit is no longer based on medical reasons. 

When the time limit was introduced in 1990, the method to freeze the eggs was one where eggs were frozen slowly and survival rates were low.  However, since there have been significant advances to the method, meaning eggs are rapidly frozen and survival rates are 96%.  There is now very little difference in the rate of success from using a frozen egg over a ‘fresh’ one.   

With the quality of a woman’s eggs being at their best in her 20s, a woman who has socially frozen her eggs will either have to use them in her 30s or if she choses to start a family later, use ‘fresh’ eggs that will be of a lower quality due to age-related decline.  

Due to the ‘unfairness’ of the time limits there has been mounting pressure on the government to change the legislation to allow women more time to store their eggs and not be pressured into either destroying them or using them when they are not ready to start a family. 

In February 2019, Former chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), Baroness Ruth Deech, asked the government to review current legislation set out in the 2008 HFE Act, calling it ‘arbitrary’, ‘debilitating’ and that a woman should be allowed more control over their own fertility. 

Baroness Deech said:

‘The storage period of ten years for frozen eggs was set when little was known about the science.’ 

With the increase in numbers of women undergoing egg-freezing treatment, there will be an increase in the numbers of women forced to make a decision at the end of the time limit. 

Baroness Deech had introduced the Storage Period of Gametes Bill to the House of Lords in June 2019. 

Baroness Rosie Boycott put quite eloquently:  

“This [change in legislation] is about extending women’s rights to their fertility, women’s rights to work and women’s rights to plan their lives… the science is with us; it is only the culture and the politics that are against us.” 

Unfortunately, Baroness Blackwood responded, indicating that a change to the rule would not happen in the immediate future. 

The ten-year limit remains under review but I do not think that replacing it through regulation in the simple way the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, suggested would be appropriate 

‘It would need to be dealt with in primary legislation and we would need to make time for that in the House. At the moment, that is not a realistic prospect. 

Due to the proroguing of Parliament and the General Election, the draft bill has not been reintroduced. 

There had been a petition to Parliament, to extend the 10 year storage limit for social egg freezing, launched on the 23rd October 2019, however it had been closed early, with over 1000 signatures, on the 6th November 2019 due to the General Election. 

It is now unclear the next steps in the attempt to change the legal time limit on the storage of eggs. 

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