Egg freezing (and ovarian tissue freezing) has been developed over the last decade, particularly in countries where it is not permitted to freeze the embryo. It is regarded as a viable way to preserve fertility for women undergoing cancer treatment, so that they can attempt to have children once they are in remission. Stem cell scientists, who require large numbers of human eggs for research, are also very interested in the technology.
The rates of successful pregnancies following egg freezing are improving, but this is still a technology in its infancy. Nevertheless one of the most outspoken of UK fertility specialists, Dr Simon Fishel, was promoting it recently (January 2006) as an acceptable solution for women with ‘life-style’ problems.
The problem according to the likes of Fishel is basically, ‘What can a woman do if she does not want to have children in her 20s or 30s because it would interfere with her career to have them sooner’ True feminists would suggest that the answer is to ensure equitable social conditions which do not require women to compromise their reproductive options, but nice Dr Simon is telling them to simply to put their eggs in the freezer and have their babies later.
Simple? Desirable? Let us look in greater detail at this latest special offer from the fertility industry.
First of all egg-freezing entails costly and invasive IVF treatment for women who do not need it, and if eggs are harvested there will be considerable storage fees to face as well. Egg harvesting may sound like nothing when promoted by the IVF specialist, but it can produce very nasty side effects including permanent damage to fertility and very sadly, even lead to death. And if the older mother does return to collect her eggs and create embryos artificially, she will be lucky if any eggs survive and equally lucky if she achieves a healthy pregnancy. Older women have more complications in pregnancy, and there are risk factors attached to IVF anyway which should not be underestimated.
Hardly an ideal to aim for.
The best age to have babies from the perspective of the overall health of the mother, leaving aside for the moment the general welfare of the child, is in the mid-twenties. This is an indisputable fact which serious gynaecologists would do well to highlight. We should as a nation work towards solutions which support childbearing at this ideal stage of a woman’s life, so that they are not forced or tempted in any way to make foolish decisions.
But ‘life-style’ egg freezing should be recognised not just as a foolish solution, but also as a selfish one. What kind of decision would put children last rather than first as a priority? How could a career be more important than the welfare of one’s child? It is in the interests of children to have the healthiest possible start to life, with mothers both young enough to provide the energy levels necessary to nurture them, and with a good life expectancy ahead.
And the father, the forgotten man, should be in the centre of the picture too. Will we be seeing men running away in justifiable terror from desperate middle-aged women with eggs stashed in the freezer? Let’s hear it for good old-fashioned romance and doing what comes naturally, rather than viewing the male contribution as some sort of peripheral optional aspect of reproduction. Children need fathers.
No, Dr Fishel. Life-style egg-freezing is not an attractive solution. In extreme medical situations it can be justified as a compassionate approach to genuine fertility problems, but even so the technique needs to be considerably improved. But as an answer for women who prefer to put their careers first it is only likely to benefit the bank accounts of fertility clinics. Pragmatically it is risky and chances of success are low. But more importantly it endorses rather than solves issues of discrimination in the work force and is totally unsympathetic to the rights of the child or the role of the male.