People across the UK will have more choice over when to start a family with plans to increase the storage limits for eggs, sperm and embryos, the UK government announced on Monday. Following a public consultation earlier this year, proposals will be introduced in Parliament to increase the statutory storage limits for everyone from the current 10 years, to a 10-year renewable storage period up to a maximum of 55 years.
Under the new system, prospective parents will be given the option at 10-year intervals to keep or dispose frozen eggs, sperm and embryos. UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the move marks a huge step forwards for giving people greater freedom over their fertility and for equality, as the same rules will apply to everyone and storage limits will not be dictated by medical need. The current storage arrangements can be severely restrictive for those making the important decision about when to start a family, and this new legislation will help turn off the ticking clock in the back of people’s minds, said Javid. There are any number of reasons why someone may choose to preserve their fertility, and it is one of the most personal decisions any of us can make. Technological breakthroughs including in egg freezing have changed the equation in recent years and it’s only right that this progress puts more power into the hands of potential parents, he said.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the changes follow evidence that shows frozen eggs can be stored indefinitely without deterioration, due to a new freezing technique called vitrification, and changes reflect the increasing success of using frozen embryos in routine IVF treatment. The government move follows a growing trend among people in the UK starting families later in life, in pursuit of career goals and other considerations. Raj Mathur, the Indian-origin Chair of the British Fertility Society (BFA), welcomed the changes and said it ensures that the new rules are compliant with the scientific evidence about the safety of storage, and protects the ability of all patients to make reproductive choices for themselves as individuals and couples.
Technological advances mean that storage of reproductive material is a safe and effective way of protecting fertility for many individuals, said Mathur. As professionals delivering care in this field, we are delighted that our advocacy has resulted in a change for the better for our patients, reducing unintended discrimination and protecting autonomy, he said.
It said the charity will work with the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to ensure clinics are supported to implement this change. ”We welcome the government’s plans to extend the storage limit for frozen eggs, sperm and embryos, bringing the law in line with advances in science, changes in modern society and individuals’ reproductive choices, said HFEA Chair Julia Chain. This is great news for patients, giving them more time to make important decisions about family planning. Any decision to store or preserve eggs, sperm or embryos is a serious one and anyone considering this must be given full information on the procedures involved, including the best time to freeze and likelihood of successfully using them to have a baby in future, she said. ”It is important that the new rules are clear and that fertility clinics are given adequate time to update their procedures to ensure they can both implement the changes effectively and give patients sufficient information so that they are fully informed about their options,” she added. The DHSC has said that it would be inappropriate for the limit to apply to all cases so there will be additional conditions around third party donors and posthumous use. This process is to be consulted upon separately.
The legislation for the broader change in the law will be tabled in Parliament in the coming months. People across the UK are starting families later in life and it is increasingly commonplace for people to choose to freeze their eggs, sperm and embryos to preserve fertility. There are myriad reasons for this, such as not being ready or able to start a family or having a medical condition that can lead to premature infertility, said UK Minister for Innovation Lord James Bethell.
Prospective parents should not have to wrestle with time limits on their fertility choices, and this important change to storage timescales will give people more control over their future and eliminate the pressure that comes with knowing a decision has to be made within 10 years, he added.
(Edited by : Pradeep Suresh V)