Egg freezing in the UK
Bioethics Briefing Note
Egg freezing in the UK: law
EF/SEF is governed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. The HFEA enforces the Act and licenses clinics to store eggs and treat patients. The HFEA first allowed frozen eggs to be thawed/used for treatments in 2000.
Women who have SEF can currently store eggs for 10 years, after which they must be used or destroyed. (A two-year extension was introduced in response to the accessibility of treatments during COVID-19.) Women who have EF for medical reasons can extend this limit by 10 years every 10 years, up to 55 years. The difference in storage limits between medical EF and SEF has been strongly criticised.* The Government is currently deciding if storage limits should change.
*Those who support extending the limit include the HFEA, RCOG/BFS, and PET. No organisations were identified that were in favour decreasing the limit/maintaining status quo.
Increasing storage limits
Positive implications of increasing the limit include:
- Enabling women to freeze at an earlier age, leading to a greater chance of live birth if they decide to use their eggs;
- Providing women with more time to make their own decisions about when and whether to use their frozen eggs;
- Addressing fairness between ‘medical’ EF and SEF; and in terms of gender (men’s fertility does not reduce with age to the same extent as that of women and is therefore not as affected by time limits).