Gamete storage period faces legal challenge

20 March 2019

Under UK law, the standard storage period for eggs and sperm is 10 years.  After this time, any eggs that a patient still has frozen must be destroyed.  There is the option to extend storage to 55 years but this is only where patients are, or are likely to become, prematurely infertile and this diagnosis must be made in a written statement from a medical professional.

The 10 year storage limit is being challenged by a group of women who had their eggs frozen nearly 10 years ago and want their eggs to continue being preserved so that, if they wish, they can start a family in the future.  The women are arguing that the storage limit should be extended and that the current limit is in breach of the human right to respect for private and family life.  They are currently launching a crowdfunding campaign to seek a judicial review of the 10 year limit in court.

Egg freezing is growing in popularity – in 2010 only 300 women choose to freeze their eggs but this had risen to 1,300 women in 2016 and in 2014 Facebook and Apple announced egg freezing as a benefit for its US female employees.  However, in the UK it still only makes up around 1.5% of all fertility cycles carried out in the UK.

In past publications the HFEA have made it clear that whilst there has been a growing call by patients and service providers alike to increase the 10 year storage limit, it is a matter for Parliament.  The former chair of the HFEA, Baroness Ruth Deech, described the 10 year limit as "arbitrary" and "potentially discriminatory" and is campaigning for the storage limit to be increased on the basis that the law has not kept pace with the medical advances, in particular, a new freezing technique (vitrification) which was introduced over a decade ago and allows eggs to be stored without deterioration.

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