Egg freezing time limit…time for a change

28th October 2019 Family Law

It’s National Fertility Week, which is a great opportunity for those at the coal-face of providing fertility advice and campaigning for reform to speak out. Sarah Norcross, director of fertility and genetics charity, Progress Educational Trust has raised the important issue of the unjust state of the law on time limits for egg-freezing.

What’s the issue?

If you undergo fertility treatment to freeze your own eggs (other than for medical reasons) you have to either use them for IVF within ten years or they will be destroyed. The problem is that this forces women into making a very difficult and unnecessary choice. Eggs frozen by younger women are more likely to result in a viable pregnancy but freezing earlier means that the ten year window could close before a woman is ready to have a baby.

The time limit was set almost 30 years ago when fertility treatment was less well-developed scientifically and less “normalised” within our culture and it needs to be reviewed. Many more women are undergoing egg-freezing treatment cycles: 1,463 cycles in 2017 compared with only 234 in 2010. The number of people affected by the time limit is only going to increase.

What do campaigners want?

We blogged earlier in the year about a woman who sought crowdfunding to launch a judicial review of the current ten year time limit for using frozen eggs. We are not aware of this challenge having been commenced but there are growing voices for reform, including a Private Members Bill in the House of Lords launched by Baroness Deech, which was abandoned when the current parliamentary session ended. A petition to Parliament has been launched this month.

As a lawyer working across areas including surrogacy, co-parenting and donation agreements, I witness first-hand how intense the desire is among my clients to become parents. Modern fertility treatments have made dreams of parenthood a reality for thousands and things are improving all the time. However, egg-freezing certainly offers no guarantees of success and there is a risk of women, keen to preserve their fertility, paying out thousands of pounds for a procedure that may well not result in a live birth. These concerns have been voiced by leading fertility experts, including Lord Robert Winston who nevertheless expressed support for the Baroness Deech’s campaign to look again at the time-limit.

What else is happening in fertility law?

The big news recently has been the Law Commission’s wide-ranging consultation on a wholesale reform of the law on surrogacy. JMW provided a response to this long and thoughtful set of questions and we sincerely hope that well-thought out legislative proposals will follow and – crucially – become law. Meanwhile, I wish the campaign to extend the egg-freezing time limit well, noting that women must be given unbiased, realistic information to enable them to make informed choices about this most important issue.

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Jo-Anna Jellings is an Associate Solicitor located in Manchester Londonin our Family department

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