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UK law on storage limit for egg freezing is too restrictive, say RCOG and BFS

News 27 February 2020

 

  • The RCOG and BFS are calling for the UK law on the storage limit for frozen eggs for non-medical reasons to be extended, providing women with more choice through  their reproductive years
  • While the use of egg freezing is increasing and success rates are improving, latest data shows just 18% of IVF treatments using a woman’s own frozen eggs were successful
  • Women undertaking egg freezing must be fully informed of the likelihood of success, as well as costs and risks

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and The British Fertility Society (BFS) are calling for the current legislation on the ten-year time limit on the storage of frozen eggs for non-medical reasons to be extended to enable women more choice through their reproductive years.

The UK legislation is no longer fit for purpose and severely restricts women who make the decision to freeze their eggs and preserve their fertility, say leading experts.

Earlier this month, The Department of Health and Social Care launched a public consultation on whether the time limit on egg freezing should be changed.

When The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was introduced, eggs could not be stored effectively for longer than ten years.

But an RCOG Scientific Impact Paper, published today, concludes that evidence shows that frozen eggs can now be stored indefinitely without deterioration, due to a new freezing technique called vitrification.

Currently, if a woman decides to freeze her eggs at her most optimum fertility – ideally in her early 20s – she must use the frozen eggs by her early 30s.

If she is not ready by the ten-year limit, she will then have to decide whether to become a parent before she is ready, transfer her eggs to a fertility clinic outside of the UK if she can afford to do so, or have her eggs destroyed.

The ten-year storage limit may discourage women from freezing eggs in their 20s, instead of their 30s, when the quality of eggs will be reduced and therefore the chances of success may be lower. 

The number of women having eggs frozen has tripled in the last five years, but numbers are still relatively low.

Latest data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in 2016 revealed there were 1,310 egg freezing cycles in the UK and 519 cycles of treatment using frozen stored eggs – both from women storing their own eggs for medical or elective reasons.

From this data, 18% of IVF treatments using a woman’s own frozen eggs were successful – this translates to around four in five cases not being successful. The live birth rate for fresh IVF treatment in the same period was 26%.

The RCOG and BFS say it is essential that women are clearly informed about the likely success rates of elective egg freezing. This is especially true as egg freezing for non-medical reasons is only available through the private sector and can incur significant financial costs, which fertility clinics must be transparent about.

In total, the whole process for egg freezing and thawing costs an average of £7,000-£8,000. And a single cycle of IVF can cost over £5,000, making the procedure limited to only those who can afford it.

Richard Anderson, Professor of Clinical Reproductive Science at the University of Edinburgh and lead author of the RCOG Scientific Impact Paper, said:

“Egg freezing provides women who are not in a position to start their family an opportunity to mitigate their decline in fertility with increasing age.

“While often perceived as a form of insurance, we feel strongly that women undertaking egg freezing do so with a full understanding of the likelihood of success, as well as the costs and risks.

“Although the technology allows indefinite storage without deterioration, the current UK legal limit of ten years for duration of elective egg freezing has no biological or medical basis and is against the interests of women wishing to freeze eggs at a younger, more effective age.

“Women should have the opportunity to manage their fertility and choose to have children at a time that is right for them, but this ten-year limit prevents their right to exercise this choice.”

Adam Balen, Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Surgery, and Spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

“Currently, the ten-year limit is too restrictive and not fit for purpose because it means women are either forced to initiate a pregnancy they may not be ready for, or have their eggs destroyed. The RCOG fully supports calls to remove this restriction and will work with the government and other key partners to find a solution to any storage issues that would be better for women.

“It seems likely that the future will see increasing numbers of women storing eggs, mostly because they are not in a relationship, but there remains a need for societal changes that support women in the workplace to have their family at a biologically optimal age if they so choose without compromising their career prospects.

“There remains an increasing recognition of the need to improve public education about age-related changes in female fertility that should highlight the importance of men’s knowledge as well as women.”

Dr Jane Stewart, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecology and Chair of The British Fertility Society, said:

“The ten-year limit is arbitrary and can be extended for those people who froze eggs for medical reasons. There is no scientific or medical reason why eggs frozen for social reasons couldn’t be kept for longer too.

“As a sector, we want to offer all the support we can to our patients. Family planning is changing and many people choose to have children later in life. We wish to ensure that those who want to have a baby have the best possible chance of success. ”

Ends

Note to editors

For media interviews, and copies of the report, please contact the RCOG press office on +44 (0)20 7045 6773 or email pressoffice@rcog.org.uk

RCOG Scientific Impact Paper: Elective egg freezing for non-medical reasons

Scientific Impact Papers advise on emerging or controversial scientific issues of relevance to obstetrics and gynaecology, together with the implications for future practice. These opinion papers are produced by the RCOG’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

The DHSC is consulting on whether the time restriction around the storage of frozen eggs and the RCOG will respond in due course.

The RCOG and BFS support the Progress Educational trust’s campaign to extend the storage limit.

For more information about egg freezing, visit the HFEA website.


About the RCOG
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a medical charity that champions the provision of high quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision.

About the BFS
The British Fertility Society was founded in 1972 by a small group with a common interest in infertility. Since then the burgeoning knowledge in this exciting area of medicine has resulted in the development and introduction of many new reproductive technologies into clinical practice. The British Fertility Society has grown alongside the development of our specialty and now actively promotes the sharing of knowledge, further education and raising standards of practice. Today, the Society recognises the multi-disciplinary nature of science and practice of reproductive medicine and welcomes andrologists, counsellors, embryologists, endocrinologists, nurses, and other professional groups working in this field, into its membership.