Statutory storage limits for eggs, sperm, and embryos are set to be increased under new Government proposals, moving to a system of 10-year renewable storage up to a maximum of 55 years.
It follows a public consultation held last year and will increase from the current statutory storage limits for everyone of 10 years.
Storage limits will, as a result, no longer be governed by medical need. The new system will see prospective parents given the option at 10-year intervals to keep or dispose of frozen eggs, sperm, and embryos.
It is intended that the changes will give prospective parents greater control over their fertility choices and empower them to start a family when they feel best suits their personal circumstances. This can include providing less pressured decision-making and opportunities to focus on careers and other life aspects without fear of affecting their chances of starting a family.
The new rules will apply the same to everyone, rather than by medical need.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “The current storage arrangements can be severely restrictive for those making the important decision about when to start a family, and this new legislation will help turn off the ticking clock in the back of people’s minds.
“There are any number of reasons why someone may choose to preserve their fertility, and it is one of the most personal decisions any of us can make. Technological breakthroughs – including in egg freezing – have changed the equation in recent years and its only right that this progress puts more power into the hands of potential parents.
“By making these changes, we are going to take a huge step forwards – not just for giving people greater freedom over their fertility, but for equality too.”
The proposed changes are made possible by using the latest freezing methods. Evidence shows frozen eggs can be stored indefinitely without deterioration, due to a new freezing technique called vitrification, and changes reflect the increasing success of using frozen embryos in routine IVF treatment.
While it will provide much greater equity for prospective parents, the announcement equally made clear that it would be inappropriate for the limit to apply to all cases, so there will be additional conditions around third party donors and posthumous use. The Government intends to consult on these separately.
Julia Chain, Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) added: “We welcome the government’s plans to extend the storage limit for frozen eggs, sperm and embryos, bringing the law in line with advances in science, changes in modern society and individuals’ reproductive choices.
“This is great news for patients, giving them more time to make important decisions about family planning.
“Any decision to store or preserve eggs, sperm or embryos is a serious one and anyone considering this must be given full information on the procedures involved, including the best time to freeze and likelihood of successfully using them to have a baby in future.
“It is important that the new rules are clear and that fertility clinics are given adequate time to update their procedures to ensure they can both implement the changes effectively and give patients sufficient information so that they are fully informed about their options.”