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Egg freezing: what is the current law, and why does it need to change?

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Hollie Richardson
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IVF fertility Twitter thread

The government has called for the 10-year limit on freezing your eggs to be extended, but why does that limit even exist? 

Women’s fertility is an issue that we’re starting to hear more honest discussions about in 2020. Although it seems our Instagram feeds are full of breezy, exciting pregnancy announcements, what happens when a woman’s pregnancy journey is a very difficult one? No one really shouts about the emotional, financial and physical ways that trying to get pregnant can affect a woman.

Podcaster Elizabeth Day recently called out how the language around IVF is structured to make women feel like they’ve “failed”. Amy Schumer also highlighted how lonely treatment can feel. And shows like Deadwater Fell and I Am Hannah have addressed the realities of women’s fertility with strong storylines that we haven’t really seen in TV dramas before.  

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Of course, women don’t have to talk about their fertility. But we should live in a world where they feel they can. Because, with the number of women choosing to freeze their eggs more than tripling – from 410 freezing cycles in 2012 to 1,462 in 2017 – we need to hear about these realities more. 

With the news that laws around egg freezing could change in order to make fertility more flexible for women, we’ve answered four of the biggest questions about freezing your eggs.

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What are the laws around freezing eggs?

The government is calling for the 10-year limit on freezing your eggs to be extended. Under current UK law, only eggs stored for medical reasons and premature infertility can be kept for longer. The storage period may then be extended for subsequent 10-year periods, until a maximum storage period of 55 years is reached, provided that the premature infertility criteria are demonstrated at any time within each 10-year period.

Explaining why this current law is so unfair for women, Dr Ippokratis Sarris, director and consultant in reproductive medicine at King’s Fertility, said: “Current regulation on the 10-year maximum for egg freezing without clear medical reasoning is simply out-of-touch with modern practices within IVF treatment and fertility in this day and age. Whilst technology and medical advancement has allowed for more effective frozen storage, women are being pressurised by a looming 10-year deadline to decide what they want to do with their eggs, or be forced to give them up after a decade.

“Eggs frozen whilst a woman is in her 20s retain the quality and success of her age. She alone should be able to decide how long her eggs are kept in storage for, regardless of other medical conditions, to safeguard for her the greatest chances of conception in later life. Freezing eggs at later stages of life, for example in her late 30s or early 40s – whilst still technically possible – is affected by the loss of egg normality that ageing naturally brings. Every woman should have the right to decide when and how long their viable eggs are kept in storage for, not outdated regulation. We must move on with the times.”

Egg freezing laws could be about to change.
Egg freezing laws could be about to change.

Why is there a 10-year limit?

Last year, a woman whose eggs were destroyed after 10 years brought the first legal challenge in the UK against fertility legislation. She called the 10-year limit “arbitrary” and claimed “it isn’t science-based”. 

According to GOV.UK, an extension can only currently be permitted if it “is a clinical decision, allowing a registered medical practitioner to take into account the individual circumstances”. 

But the government is now arguing that “there have been significant improvements in freezing technologies since the last review of the legislation which make the storage of eggs for longer than 10 years possible, while maintaining sufficient egg quality to allow eggs to be thawed and fertilised even after an extended period in storage.”

The open consultation document also explains: “There are also important arguments to consider about reproductive choice for women and how the current legislation may affect that.”

How much does it cost to freeze eggs?

According to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, the average price of one complete egg-freezing cycle in the UK, including storage and use of eggs in future treatments, is between £7,000-£8,000. Egg freezing is not normally available on the NHS unless you are having medical treatment which could affect your fertility.  

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What happens when you freeze eggs?

Freezing your eggs usually takes between two to three weeks. This normally involves taking drugs to boost your egg production and help the eggs mature. Around 15 eggs are then taken to be frozen and stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen. When you’re ready to use them, the eggs will be thawed and surviving ones will be injected with sperm. In 2017, 19% of IVF treatments using a patient’s own frozen eggs were successful.

You can find more helpful information about freezing your eggs here:

Fertility Network UK

Support Line 0121 323 5025, fertilitynetworkuk.org

NHS

IVF support helpsheet

Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority

hfea.gov.uk

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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