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Last month, the UK lifted its 10-year limit on egg, sperm and embryo storage, giving potential parents more control over their fertility
There are all sorts of reasons why women might want to preserve their fertility, whether it’s because they want to focus on their careers, be more financially stable, wait to meet the right partner, or just don’t feel ready to start a family yet (if you’re thinking about freezing your eggs, keep reading for a breakdown of the costs, and there’s more information in our guide here).
But until recently, the decision to freeze your eggs or embryos (which is when your eggs have already been fertilized) was complicated by the fact that by law they could only be stored for up to 10 years.
This left some women in a bind. Delaying the procedure until your late 30s would obviously preserve your fertility longer. But freezing your eggs before age 35 increases the likelihood of a successful pregnancy, according to one 2016 report by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
This meant that when women who had frozen their eggs reached the 10-year mark, they faced a “limited number of worrying and potentially financially devastating options”, explains Sarah Norcross, director of Progress Educational Trust (PET).
Speaking on behalf of the charity, which works to improve choices for people affected by infertility and genetic conditions, Norcross said those options were: “having her eggs destroyed (and with them perhaps her best or only chance of becoming a biological mother); to become a parent before they were ready to do so (either with a partner or as a single mother via sperm donation); or to try to finance the transfer of eggs to a fertility clinic abroad (and receive fertility treatment abroad at a later date).
At the same time, the rules were different for parents who were judged to be “prematurely infertile”. For example, if you freeze your eggs or sperm before undergoing cancer treatment, you can keep them frozen for up to 55 years.
PET responded by launching a campaign to change the law in 2019. And last September the UK government announced plans to extend the 10-year limit to 55 for everyone.
In a statement, former health secretary Sajid Javid said: “The current storage arrangements can be seriously restrictive for those making the important decision about when to start a family, and this new legislation will help turn off the ticking clock at the back of people’s minds.”
As of July 1, the law change has finally arrived. Now, every ten years, patients will be able to choose whether to continue with storage or to donate or dispose of their eggs, sperm or embryos.
To find out more about the impact of these changes, we spoke with Cynthia Hudson, a leading embryologist and VP of Clinical Strategy at the fertility technology company TMRW Life Sciences.
What does this news mean for young women?
The increase in the permitted storage period means that patients in their early 20s can now confidently consider freezing their eggs, knowing that they will be able to use them whenever they are ready to have children.
The comfort this law has given (and will give) to patients is profound. Knowing that they are not on the clock for another “clock” to reproduce gives patients much more leeway in deciding their future plans. It is liberating and empowering and should serve to reduce the stress and anxiety surrounding family building.
Do you expect to see more women choosing to freeze their eggs as a result?
The number of patients seeking egg freezing in the UK is increasing and is expected to continue to do so, particularly in light of the new law. The 10-year limit on storage almost certainly discouraged women from egg freezing, although this has not been widely reported. I’ve been in discussions with many clinics recently who are seeing an increase in new patients, and the new law is a big part of the conversation.
The change in the law is beneficial for everyone, and definitely for trans people who want to keep their opportunities. Freezing eggs before transition gives patients the flexibility they need to figure out their short- and long-term plans without the pressure of a 10-year clock ticking in the background.
What are the other major obstacles to egg freezing?
One of the biggest obstacles to freezing eggs is cost. I will discuss the financial costs here, but there are also emotional and physical costs to consider.
According to the HFEA, the average cost of having your eggs collected and frozen in the UK is £3,350, with medicine adding £500-£1,500 to that total. Storage costs are extra and tend to be between £200 and £400 per year. When you are ready to use your eggs, you need to contact your clinic so they can plan to thaw and fertilize them (essentially doing an IVF cycle). You must also undergo treatment to prepare your uterus to receive the resulting embryos. This process costs an average of £2,500, excluding any medications or male partners, so the whole egg freezing and thawing process costs an average of £7,000 – £8,500.
There are a few options to reduce this cost. Some donor egg banks in the UK will cover
egg freezing costs in exchange for the patient donating half of their eggs to the bank. Egg freezing is also available on the NHS if you need medical treatment that may affect your future fertility.
It is important to research your options and seek advice from a fertility specialist who can answer all your questions.