In October 2012, egg freezing or “oocyte cryovitrification” was reclassified as no longer experimental. Great excitement ensued, along with predictions that the reign of the biological clock is over.
If you scan the news headlines it would be easy to draw that conclusion. But we need to look beyond the media hype to get the whole picture.
Dr. Eric Widra, chairman of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology practice committee cautions that the technology is still relatively new and the long term data is limited.
Only about 1000 babies have been conceived using frozen eggs compared to well over a million from IVF.
Widra believes that only women and couples with “urgent infertility needs” should be candidates for egg freezing. He points out that the technique was originally developed for patients undergoing chemotherapy who would be facing certain infertility.
Samantha Pfeifer, a University of Pennsylvania fertility specialist and chairman of the guideline committee, states that results are not as predictable for women in their late thirties and early forties.
The approximately 1000 studies that the committee reviewed were not just limited to “older women”, but also included women in their teens and twenties, who’s success rates were clearly better, and few studies have been done on women who froze their eggs beyond the age of 35 or 40, says Pfiefer.
Then there’s the cost. Removing and freezing the eggs goes for around $10,000 and storing them is another $1000 per year. When a woman is ready to use them, her eggs must be thawed and undergo a high tech fertilization process before an embryo (or embryos) can be transferred. By the time you add up retrieval, storage, thawing, fertilization and implantation, you’re looking at around $40,000 to produce a baby.
Which means that egg freezing is only an option for those who can afford it.
In my opinion, women who want to beat their biological clock will not be getting any third party help in the foreseeable future. Health plans are likely to resist covering egg freezing as an elective procedure. They may, however, be pressured into covering those who face infertility due to severe medical conditions .
A form of infertility treatment that does stand to benefit enormously from egg freezing is the use of donor eggs. Until now, women and couples who want to conceive using donor eggs that typically faced delays of several months. A donor had to be found, tests performed, menstrual cycles synchronized. And each cycle cost about $20,000. But frozen donor eggs are available immediately and at about half the cost.
Fertility clinics across the United States are already promoting egg freezing as benefiting “young women who are not ready to have children…as it allows them to delay childbearing while reducing the risk of fertility loss due to age.” (Quoted from the Boston IVF website).
This is great news and I’m happy to see that for a woman who wants “insurance” against declining fertility, we now have a viable option. But, as Dr. Widra says, we need to bear in mind that this is still a young technology and we should proceed with caution.