Beating the Biological Clock: Should You Freeze Your Eggs?

Progress Educational Trust
JZ Young Lecture Theatre, Ground Floor, Anatomy Building, Bloomsbury Campus, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
21 October 2015
This public event was organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) in partnership with the Anne McLaren Memorial Trust Fund, was supported by the London Women's Clinic, and was held at University College London.
The cryopreservation (freezing or vitrification) of women's eggs is a subject of increasingly lively debate, especially when done for non-medical reasons (so-called 'social egg freezing'). It is a service offered by many UK fertility clinics, which claim that they are meeting a growing demand. Some clinics also offer a 'freeze and share' service, whereby women can freeze their eggs for free or at a reduced cost if they are prepared to donate eggs to another woman.
Current UK law states that eggs can be stored when there is no medical need to do so, but only for a maximum of 10 years. The storage period can be extended beyond this, but only if a medical practitioner provides a written opinion that the person whose eggs have been stored is either prematurely infertile or likely to become so.
There has been high-profile criticism of the reliability of egg cryopreservation, and of the integrity of clinics which offer it. Fertility figurehead Professor Lord Robert Winston has told The Times that clinics which charge handsomely for cryopreservation are being 'highly exploitative', and has told Woman's Hour that 'the idea that you can store eggs by freezing I think is a scam'. A recent editorial in The Times entitled 'Oversold Eggs' points out that 'the central fact' about egg cryopreservation 'is that it almost never leads to a successful birth'.
There is also debate about whether women who are encouraged to freeze their eggs are being supported in planning the lives they want, or are being given the objectionable message that having children is incompatible with pursuing their career. There was a furore when Apple and Facebook began offering egg cryopreservation as a perk to their US employees, hoping to attract and retain women in top positions by enabling them to delay starting a family. Elsewhere in Silicon Valley, a fertility guru who calls herself the 'egg whisperer' now organises 'egg freezing parties' which she likens to Tupperware parties.
The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, which sets standards for fertility clinics in the USA, has lifted the 'experimental' label from egg cryopreservation but says more research is necessary before it can be used routinely to treat healthy women. The city of Urayasu recently became the first municipality in Japan to offer publicly funded egg cryopreservation, but again, Japanese clinicians have decided not to recommend the service for young and healthy women. So why is egg cryopreservation being offered to young and healthy women in the UK?

Barry Fuller
Professor of Surgical Science and Low Temperature Medicine at University College London, and former President of the Society for Cryobiology
Dr Imogen Goold
Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oxford, and author of the book Flesh and Blood: Owning Our Bodies and Their Parts
Maureen McNeil
Emeritus Professor of Women's Studies and Cultural Studies at Lancaster University, and author of the book Feminist Cultural Studies of Science and Technology
Dr Françoise Shenfield
Clinical Lecturer in Reproductive Health and Honorary Lecturer in Medical Ethics at University College London's Institute for Women's Health, and Coordinator of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology's Special Interest Group on Socio-Cultural Aspects of (In)Fertility

Kate Brian
Member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and Regional Organiser at Infertility Network UK

Partners and supporters:
Anne McLaren Memorial Trust Fund
The London Women's Clinic, supporter of the Progress Educational Trust's FREE evening event 'Beating the Biological Clock: Should You Freeze Your Eggs?', taking place at University College London on the evening of Wednesday 21 October 2015