Government considers storage limit extension for frozen eggs, sperm and embryos

The limit on how long frozen eggs, sperm and embryos can be stored may be extended amid concerns women are being disproportionately affected, the Government has announced.

The current storage period is a maximum of 10 years, after which families must decide whether to undergo fertility treatment or have their eggs, sperm and embryos destroyed.

The Department of Health and Social Care is asking people whether they feel this should be changed.

Both men and women may freeze their sperm and/or eggs for non-medical reasons, such as wanting to have children in future but not having a partner.

Increasing numbers of single women are turning to IVF and donor insemination to conceive a baby, data suggests. Credit: PA

A woman has a better chance of a healthy pregnancy if she freezes her eggs in her 20s when her fertility is at its peak. The current 10-year limit, however, would then expire in her 30s - which may be too early for some women to start a family.

The number of women freezing their eggs has soared by 257 per cent since 2012.

There were 1,462 egg freezing cycles in 2017 compared to 410 in 2012, while freezing technologies have become more advanced.

Only those stored for medical reasons, such as cancer treatment, and premature infertility can be preserved for longer than the current limit. In these circumstances, eggs can be stored for up to 55 years in total.

The Government is launching a public consultation into whether the limit should be changed.

The most common age for women to freeze their eggs is currently 38. Credit: PA

Minister for Care Caroline Dinenage said: "Every person should be given the best possible opportunity to start a family, which is why it is so important that our laws reflect the latest in technological advancements.

"Although this could affect any one of us, I am particularly concerned by the impact of the current law on women’s reproductive choices.

"A time limit can often mean women are faced with the heart-breaking decision to destroy their frozen eggs, or feel pressured to have a child before they are ready.

"As the number of people seeking this storage rises, we want to hear from the public about whether the law is fair and proportionate, and ensure everyone is empowered to choose when they become parents."

The Government will also consider issues of safety and quality, and additional demand for storage facilities, should the limit be extended.

Sally Cheshire, chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said: "As the fertility regulator we have heard the voices of patients and clinicians calling for a review and extension of the current time limit for egg, embryo and sperm storage.

"While any change to the 10-year storage limit would be a matter for Parliament as it requires a change in law, we believe the time is right to consider what a more appropriate storage limit could be that recognises both changes in science and in the way women are considering their fertility."