The UK government has announced that it is extending the period that sperm and eggs can be frozen. The extension is from 10 years to 55 years. This is a very welcome move and helpspatients who must plan and decide on when to use their cryopreserved eggs. The previous limit of 10 years was set as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 2008. However, both technology and society have moved on considerably from that time. After a public consultation in 2020, the government has decided to act.
Giving patients a choice
Lord Bethel, UK Minister for Innovation said, “In a modern society, some individuals are choosing to start their families later in life. They are increasingly choosing to use new and effective techniques to freeze their eggs, sperm or embryos to preserve fertility. The proposed policy change is intended to facilitate greater reproductive choice. It allows for less stressful decision-making in family formation.”
Freezing is a social choice as well as medical
Currently, only women with designated medical reasons such as those undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments that could are allowed to store their eggs for up to 55 years. However, many women are now storing their eggs for other reasons such as employment and relationship situations. Around two-thirds of those women in the UK are over 35, the age where fertility starts to decline sharply.
The good thing about the new law is that it means that these women can freeze their eggs in their 20s, when their eggs are of the highest quality, without facing a strict 10-year limit to use them. It is not only women who will benefit from the change to the law, as the new rules will also apply to men who wish to store their sperm. The law means that in future, for example, a 50-year-old man with fertility problems could father a child using sperm he had frozen when he was 20.
Campaigners welcome the news
Charities representing fertility patients have also welcomed the news. Julia Chain, Chair, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said, “This is great news for patients, giving them more time to make important decisions about family planning. It is important that the new rules are clear and that fertility clinics are given adequate time to update their procedures to ensure they can both implement the changes effectively and give patients sufficient information about their options.”
Sarah Norcross, Progress Educational Trust who campaigned for the change in the law, said, “We are delighted that the Government has seen fit to make the changes we campaigned for. Extending the 10-year storage limit on social egg freezing will enable the exercise of reproductive choice, freeing women from the constraints of an outdated, discriminatory and unscientific law, and the threat of having their eggs destroyed against their will or being forced to become a mother before they are ready to do so.”