Dr Catherine Hill
Head of Communications, Progress Educational Trust
Increasing numbers of women in the UK are facing the stark choice of having to destroy their frozen eggs or become a mother before they are ready to do so because of an outdated and unscientific law.
If a woman wants to try to preserve her fertility, the best time to freeze her eggs is in her 20s but, under current UK law, women who freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons can only store them for 10 years. This means that, if a woman freezes her eggs when she is 28, she has to be ready to use them before she is 38.
If she isn’t ready, she faces a limited number of distressing and potentially financially-crippling options: to have her eggs destroyed, and with them perhaps her best or only chance of becoming a biological mother; to become a parent before she is ready to do so, either with a partner or as a solo mum via sperm donation, or to try to fund the transfer of her eggs to a fertility clinic overseas and have fertility treatment abroad at a later date.
Improving reproductive choices
Fertility and genetics charity, the Progress Educational Trust (PET), is aiming to change this harsh outlook and improve women’s reproductive options. PET’s director, Sarah Norcross, said: “PET’s #ExtendTheLimit campaign calls on the government to show compassion and extend the 10-year storage limit for social egg freezing. Just a minor amendment is necessary to remove this cruel and pointless legislation and will give so many women hope for a fertile future. After the general election, PET will launch an online petition asking the UK public to show their support by adding their signature to the #ExtendTheLimit petition. Gathering 100,000 signatures will mean government has to debate a change in the law at Westminster.”
A breach of human rights
Ms Norcross added: “Women deserve reproductive choice. The 10-year storage limit is a very clear breach of human rights: it limits women’s reproductive options, harms women’s chances of becoming biological mothers, does not have any scientific basis (eggs remain viable if frozen for longer than 10 years) and is discriminatory against women because of the decline in female fertility with age.
It is an arbitrary and outdated piece of legislation that does not reflect improvements in egg freezing techniques and changes in society that push women to have children later in life.”
Why change is needed now
The proportion of women affected is also increasing rapidly. In the UK, figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) reveal the number of women freezing their eggs more than tripled in the last five years. However, the current 10-year storage limit acts as a perverse incentive for women to delay freezing their eggs until their mid-to-late 30s when egg quality is declining and a woman’s chance of becoming a biological mother has reduced – latest HFEA data shows two-thirds of UK women freezing their eggs are over 35.