Enquiries from women about egg freezing at some UK fertility clinics have jumped by as much as 50% this summer when compared to the same period last year. This has been attributed to the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic and women being concerned about their reduced chances of finding a partner in the lockdown coupled with their declining fertility after the age of 35.
Growth of egg freezing – up 240% in five years
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, there had been a sharp increase in interest in egg freezing over the past five years as a method of preserving a women’s fertility, both for medical purposes and for other reasons such as not being in a suitable relationship, widely known as “social egg freezing”. In 2018, there were 1933 egg freezing cycles, up from 569 in 2013, representing growth of 240%.
Spotlight on storage limits
This growth in egg freezing for fertility preservation has also brought into sharp focus storage limits which differ depending on whether the eggs are frozen for medical reasons or for social reasons. Women, who freeze their eggs for medical reasons, can store their eggs for a maximum of 55 years. However, women who opt for social egg freezing can only store their eggs for up to 10 years, after which they must either use or destroy the eggs (in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a temporary two-year extension has been granted). This difference in storage times between medical and social egg freezing has been strongly criticised and is currently under review by the UK Government.
The future of egg freezing for fertility preservation
Whilst egg freezing for fertility preservation is currently growing rapidly, technological developments could impact its future: ovarian tissue freezing and developing stem cells into eggs could present two alternatives in the years to come.
For further information
Fertility treatment 2018: trends and figures
Published 30th June 2020
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
Policy Briefing: Egg freezing in the UK
Published 30th September 2020
Nuffield Council on Bioethics