In this series of articles, our medical students will discuss a range of topics from medical ethics to the NHS to public health to medical conditions to clinical governance
Some women decide that they would like to preserve their fertility by freezing their eggs for use in the future. This is because as a woman ages, the quality of the eggs falls, and the woman is at a higher risk of conceiving children with congenital malformations. Unlike males, who are still able to father children well into their 50’s and possibly longer, female fertility declines at the age of 35. The treatment isn’t 100% effective, with only 19% of treatments of IVF treatments using frozen eggs being successful in 2017.
The procedure firstly involves the woman being tested for diseases such as hepatitis and HIV, to ensure her eggs are not kept with any other eggs so that there is no contamination. Then, the woman will undergo the IVF process, which involves her having multiple injections of follicle stimulating hormone to increase the number of eggs the ovaries produce so that more eggs can be collected. This takes around two to three weeks to complete. Once the eggs are collected, cryoprotectant, a freezing solution, is added to protect the eggs. They are then frozen and stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen. The whole procedure, including egg freezing and thawing costs approximately £7000-£8000.
Here is where it gets interesting. Eggs can be stored for a maximum of 10 years for non-medical reasons, but they can be stored for as long as 55 years in certain circumstances such as if the woman is at risk of becoming prematurely infertile.
The Progress Education Trust (PET) is currently battling this time frame, in belief that women should not be forced to destroy their eggs at 10 years as they may want to save the eggs for a later occasion. The charity is facing the government and the public about this issue. They quote:
"It curtails women's reproductive choices, harms women's chances of becoming biological mothers, does not have any scientific basis (eggs remain viable if frozen for longer than ten years) and is discriminatory against women because of the decline in female fertility with age."
This quote shows some of the benefits of women being able to store their eggs for longer. It means that they will be able to become a mother whenever she chooses without the restraint of a 10-year time limit. Another benefit of egg freezing is that it reduces the stress on women for finding ‘the one’. Some women are waiting to find their life partner before they go ahead with thawing their eggs and implanting them, and they may not find this person in the 10 years they have.
Baroness Deech, a member of parliament, has also said that the storage period of 10 years for frozen eggs was set when little was known about science. The first human birth from a frozen egg was reported in 1986, and a lot of scientific advances have been made since then.
So, who knows? We could possibly have new storage times soon for eggs!