The first Canadian clinic to offer long-term egg storage services for healthy young women has opened, aimed at those who wish to delay childbearing until a later age, when their eggs would be less likely to be successfully fertilised. Previously, this option has only been available to cancer patients before treatment as a last hope against ensuing infertility.
The clinic's director, Dr Essam Michael, feels that egg freezing should be available to healthy women as 'insurance' against the risk of infertility resulting from attempting motherhood too late in life.
Many fertility experts caution that such insurance might provide a false sense of security in encouraging women to postpone pregnancy, when recent data shows the success rate of fertility treatment using frozen-thawed eggs is only three to four per cent. Scientifically, the long-term health and safety risks are unknown, with international studies just embarking to collate and study the data from this new technology.
Although success is not guaranteed, Dr Michael believes that it provides a meaningful chance which can help many women avoid potential heartache later in life. He recommends it should be available to women older than 27 years, when a woman's fertility begins to decline. Age is the most determinative factor leading to failed pregnancies and infertility which affects 17 per cent of healthy Canadian couples. After the age of 35, women's fertility rate dramatically decreases yet increasing numbers of women for personal and professional reasons are seeking to become mothers after 35.
Prospective clients must first meet with a psychologist. Prior to the procedure, patients must inject follicle stimulating hormones daily for ten to twelve days. The eggs are then harvested by keyhole surgery and 'frozen' through cryopreservation until later 'thawed' for use in assisted reproduction when the woman desires.
Others are sceptical about an unregulated consumer market pandering to this new technology. But while this is true in the US, in Canada egg freezing is a 'controlled activity' under the 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act. Health Canada currently launched a review into the health and safety risks for egg freezing. If it concludes the practice is too risky then clinic licenses will be appropriately restricted.
Issues of older parenting are outweighed for many women who will eagerly pay for a chance to preserve their fertility in an unknown future. The procedure costs $5,000 and $300 per year thereafter for storage. National healthcare provision for assisted reproduction depends upon the province. So far, three women have undergone the procedure at the clinic without paying privately.