We did it! The Progress Educational Trust (PET) is celebrating: the Government has listened to our #ExtendTheLimit campaign, heard our calls for compassion and common sense and announced a public consultation. This will looking at extending the ten-year storage limit, reviewing the laws around not just eggs frozen for 'social' (non medical) reasons – which is the main thrust of our campaign – but also sperm and embryos.
The potential shift in policy is of huge significance for many women – not just those who have frozen their eggs, but those who are considering doing so or may do so in the future. Extending the ten-year storage limit on social egg freezing will enable women to exercise reproductive choice – freeing women from the shackles of an outdated, discriminatory and unscientific law, the threat of having their eggs destroyed against their will, or being forced to become a mother (either with a partner or via a sperm donor) before they are ready to do so. It will also relieve women of the additional financial burden of funding the transfer of frozen eggs overseas, and later fertility treatment abroad. It is a move towards reproductive equality for women.
Although the consultation is only the first step in a process which PET hopes will result in a change in legislation enabling the ten-year storage limit to be extended, it will bring hope to the women who have frozen their eggs for social reasons, and those who are considering doing so. However, time is of the essence, especially for those women facing the imminent destruction of their frozen eggs, so we urge the Government to act swiftly. We ask the Government to take immediate action so women's eggs do not have to be used, exported or destroyed while this consultation process is taking place.
The Department of Health and Social Care's online public consultation, 'Egg, sperm and embryo storage limits', runs until 5 May 2020. Anyone can respond to it here and we urge everyone to do so. This is your chance to make a difference.
PET is working with many women affected by the outdated, discriminatory and unscientific legislation: some are facing the imminent destruction of their eggs and their only chance of becoming biological mothers; others have been forced to fund the transfer of their eggs overseas or have delayed freezing their eggs because of concerns about the legislation and how it will impact on their reproductive freedoms. Below is one example of many.
Elizabeth froze her eggs nearly ten years ago when she was 36, and is now fighting to avoid having her eggs destroyed against her wishes in eight months' time. She told PET: 'The effect the ten-year storage limit is having on me is colossal. I'm constantly anxious about time running out. I feel like a ticking time bomb every day. The options available keep racing through my mind. Do I have a child with my current partner even though we are not ready; do I just pick a random donor and go ahead with it on my own? I don't want to make the wrong decision for my future. But one thing is sure, I really do want to have my own children.'
'However, I am now faced with my only chance to become a biological mother being taken away from me. The life and financial sacrifices that I made ten years ago to secure my baby-making future are being removed because of an outdated law that doesn't really benefit or protect anyone; a law that doesn't serve the whole purpose of freezing eggs in the first place. I hope the law will be changed in time and I won't need to make my decision yet, but time is running out and it doesn't look like it will happen in time for me.'
On her decision to freeze her eggs, she says: 'At 36, my internal body clock was screaming at me to have a family. But as a full-time lecturer also running my own business, and who hadn't met the right man, I felt freezing my eggs was the only way to secure my desired future and put my baby panic frenzy on pause. I had hoped to use my eggs earlier, but long-term illness intervened; it's only now that I am well enough to consider the prospect of being a mum. I didn't plan on leaving it this late, but that doesn't mean I don't still want to.'
The Government wants to know people's views and not just about eggs but sperm and embryos too. How long should we allow people to store gametes and embryos for? What changes would provide reproductive choice and also be practicable from a clinic's point of view?
PET's mission is to educate and debate the responsible application of reproductive and genetic science, and there is a lot to discuss. You can support our #ExtendTheLimit campaign fighting for reproductive choice for women by becoming a Friend of PET. From just £3 a month, you can play a vital role in ensuring reproductive choice for all. Join us today, or make a one off donation here. As a small charity, we make a little go a long way!
Finally – please don't forget to respond to the consultation!