The government has made a major announcement this week on egg, sperm and embryo freezing limits following a public consultation earlier this year. Currently, the statutory storage restriction is 10 years, but in a landmark ruling, they plan to extend the storage limit to a maximum of 55 years, with 10-year renewals.
Dr Anna Carby, fertility expert and consultant gynaecologist at Aria Fertility, commented on the news: “We welcome the government’s plans to extend the storage limit for frozen eggs, sperm and embryos. The increase in the number of egg freezing cycles in the UK has risen exponentially over the past few years with improvements in freezing technology and the recent COVID outbreak has led to an additional surge in the numbers of cycles undertaken. Here at Aria, we are delighted that storage limits are set to increase up to 55 years for both eggs and sperm allowing patients the freedom to decide if, and how early, they may choose to freeze.”
Why are storage limits being extended?
The government has taken this step to give prospective parents a greater choice over when they can start a family. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the current limit was “severely restrictive” and the change will remove the pressure of the “ticking clock in the back of people’s minds”.
Under the current legislation, after the 10-year storage period, parents must decide whether to proceed with fertility treatment at that point or have the cells destroyed. There are some exceptions to this – patients that can prove they are premature infertility, for example, as a result of medical treatment such as chemotherapy, are able to preserve their gametes and embryos for 55 years and the new proposal would allow all fertility patients to be treated equally.
What is egg, sperm or embryo freezing?
During egg freezing, your ovaries are stimulated in the same way as IVF to maximise the number of eggs you reproduce. We monitor your progress and schedule the best time to collect the eggs. Egg collection is a straightforward, minor surgical procedure and we then flash-freeze the suitable eggs in a process known as vitrification.
Before we freeze your sperm, we carry out a fertility assessment including semen analysis. We then receive your instructions on how your sperm can be used in the future. Once the sperm is collected, it is then preserved in liquid nitrogen at very low temperatures to preserve its quality.
Embryo freezing can be performed either as a standalone procedure or after IVF or ICSI to preserve any excess embryos in case you need to undergo further fertility treatments. Your eggs are collected and fertilised like during IVF. They can be frozen when they’re just a single cell, at the two to eight-cell stage or later in their development.
Prevalent research suggests that eggs, sperm and embryos can be stored indefinitely without deteriorating.
The next step is for the plans to be brought before parliament so new legislation can be introduced. Now, all patients with frozen gametes or embryos have been given a two-year extension due to the disruption to fertility treatments caused by the COVID pandemic. For more advice on fertility preservation, get in touch with Aria Fertility to arrange a consultation.