US fertility doctors have issued new guidelines recommending that women should not be able to freeze their eggs if there are no health indications for doing so. Women who are worried about not finding the right partner or who deliberately delay having children should not be offered the service, as the procedure is still largely unproven and not an established medical practice, they say. Each frozen egg that is successfully thawed has only between a two and four per cent chance of producing a live birth.
Speaking on behalf of a committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) at its annual conference in Washington last week, the doctors said that it is unethical to offer the procedure to women who simply wanted to delay having children. Marc Fritz, an ASRM official and the head of the society's practice committee on the matter, said that they 'acknowledge that many women, very understandably, have an interest in this emerging technology, which might help them to achieve their reproductive goals', but added 'it is not an established medical practice'. The committee urged young women to consider all aspects of egg freezing carefully before moving forward with any plans to use it as part of their intended reproductive life. Speaking to a UK newspaper, Fritz commented that 'it is essential that [women] receive thorough counselling about the procedures, costs and risks that are involved, including that it is statistically unlikely that the majority will ever need or use their cryopreserved oocytes'.
The committee recommended that only women whose fertility may be damaged by treatment for cancer who go through early menopause should be offered egg freezing as a means of preserving their fertility, or those IVF patients who may have ethical objections to freezing surplus embryos. In the UK, egg freezing has only been legal since 2000, and only four babies have so far been born from previously-frozen eggs. The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said, however, that 185 women had eggs in frozen storage at the end of 2006, most of whom were cancer patients or those objecting to embryo freezing. However, three UK clinics offer egg freezing for 'social' reasons, two of which only started to do so last month.
Results of two studies on children born as a result of the use of frozen eggs were also presented at the ASRM's meeting. One set of results from US scientists used data from about 550 children conceived in this way and showed that the procedure does not carry an increased risk of causing genetic damage leading to congenital abnormalities. The study showed that only one per cent of the infants conceived and born from frozen eggs suffered from birth defects - a level comparable with that found in the general population. Similar results were shown by Italian scientists in a sample of 123 women.