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Egg Freezing and UK Law Reform

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics published a Briefing Note on Egg Freezing in the UK on 30 September 2020. It concludes that there are few arguments against increasing storage limits for social egg freezing in the UK and it coincides with the government’s ongoing review of gamete and embryo storage law.  As such, it provides further impetus for reform of gamete and embryo storage law in the UK.

In my previous blog (13 February 2020), I welcomed the government’s decision to review gamete (eggs and sperm) and embryo storage law in the UK. I explained that the standard 10-year storage period is inflexible and increasingly out of step with modern family building needs and technological advances fuelling rapidly increasing demand for egg freezing in the UK. I further explained that current standard gamete and embryo storage limits disproportionately disadvantage women because their biological clock causes their fertility to diminish at a faster rate than men’s. This is unfair and it undermines women’s reproductive choices, rights and biological legacy.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ position on egg freezing in the UK

The Briefing Note on Egg Freezing published by the Nuffield Council on Wednesday this week  concludes:

  • There is increasing interest in egg freezing in the UK.
  • There appear to be few arguments against increasing the 10-year storage limit for social egg freezing in the UK.
  • The way ‘social’ egg freezing is presented and marketed is potentially of concern and should be the focus of closer attention.
  • ‘Successful’ egg freezing can be measured in a variety of ways that can be difficult for women to navigate. There is therefore a pressing need for available data on likely success rates to be presented clearly, accessibly, and transparently.
  • If more UK companies start to offer egg freezing as an employment benefit, women’s experiences of using such schemes should be a focus of research.

Overall, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ Briefing Note on Egg Freezing in the UK provides a helpful overview of key policy, social, and ethical issues. It highlights the fact that the difference in storage limits between medical egg freezing and social egg freezing has been strongly criticised and it raises some important issues that need to be addressed moving forward.

The HFEA’s position on egg freezing in the UK

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ Briefing Note on Egg Freezing in the UK follows the HFEA’s response on 13 May 2020 to the Department of Health and Social Care’s consultation on gamete and embryo storage terms in the UK. Its response also recommended that the government consider increasing the length of time patients can store their gametes and embryos. It proposed a framework that would enable patients who need to store for longer than the current standard 10-year storage period to be able to do so, especially in cases where women are storing electively at a young age to preserve their fertility. It concluded that the current standard 10-year statutory storage limit is too restrictive and it negatively impacts on people’s reproductive choice. Their proposed approach would allow patients who are intending to store their gametes or embryos for use in their own treatment to be able to store for up to a maximum of 55 years provided certain conditions are met:

  • The patient (gamete provider) provides new written consent to storage every 10 years (up to a maximum of 55 years).
  • The patient (gamete provider) confirms that they are storing because they are intending to use the gametes or embryos in their own treatment or in their partner’s treatment (including surrogacy arrangements).
  • The clinic has offered the patient counselling before they consent to every additional 10 years storage.

However, it remains to be seen whether law reform will be introduced and if so what this will mean in practice.

Fertility Treatment Law

It is important to bear in mind that  freezing eggs, sperm and embryos and undergoing fertility treatment does not guarantee a successful outcome and a much-wanted baby. It can also create a wide range of legal and practical issues that need to be navigated carefully, including:

  • Issues and difficulties for women facing rapidly declining age-related fertility and loss of opportunity of fertility treatment and conception (e.g. fertility preservation and maximisation, management of existing personal relationships and implications of using donor gametes).
  • Problems and issues associated with assisted conception using frozen gametes or embryos involving a known donor, co-parent or surrogate (e.g. legal parentage, financial responsibility and dispute mitigation).
  • Issues for men and women who seek to preserve and maximise their fertility and family building options as a result of a cancer diagnosis or gender reassignment.
  • Difficulties and confusion over storage and use of frozen eggs, sperm and embryos in fertility treatment in the UK (e.g. lack of consent and expiry of storage terms).
  • Problems and issues associated with import of frozen gametes and embryos into the UK for use in fertility treatment and surrogacy (e.g. due to anonymous and commercially obtained gametes and embryos which engage UK public policy restrictions).
  • Issues associated with the export of frozen gametes and embryos abroad for use in fertility treatment and surrogacy (e.g. lack of consent and storage term difficulties).
  • Unexpected death of a loved-one and related issues associated with posthumous storage and use of eggs, sperm and embryos in fertility treatment (e.g. due to an accident or illness).

If you would like to discuss your situation or you require specialist fertility and family law advice and assistance please contact Louisa by email louisa@louisaghevaertassociates.co.uk  or by telephone +44 (0)20 7965 8399.

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