Transcript

It’s incredible how quickly science fiction can turn itself into science fact.

Hi, I’m Doctor Joe.

The notion of freezing eggs is something that probably even 30, 40 years ago would have been seen as very, very futuristic. Yet it is now with us and in fact has been for some time.

The concept of freezing eggs -and we’re talking about ova from the female– is so that they can be stored, obviously, and then perhaps fertilised later, for women who might want to delay pregnancy.

Thus far the main use has been in women who might be undergoing some form of treatment for cancer where they may be rendered infertile by the treatment particularly chemotherapy or radiotherapy and the eggs can be harvested. It’s a medical procedure to take eggs from the ovary, they can then be stored in a deep freeze and then brought out later and fertilised.

More recently this has attracted interest in America where a couple of fairly major, big companies, including Facebook, are actually providing funds for women who want to freeze eggs. Now this attracted a lot of headlines and interest and I suppose the question then arises, “Well, you know, is it a good idea or is it not a good idea?” And like with most questions in medicine there is no absolute right or wrong answer to it.

From a social or cultural point of view we know already that a lot of women are having families later. They’re going through university, having careers, and then having children perhaps at a later stage in life if you compared it to the 60s and 70s, people tended to have children at a younger age.

There is no right or wrong. The question that I suppose people would need to ask before they go down this path is, “Is there any problem with having a child in your high 30s or low 40s?” And you know, even 30 years ago, over 35 was considered to be quite old if you like for having a child. That is no longer the case and a lot of women even without having their eggs frozen are having babies into their low 40s.

So it could be said that unless there is a question mark or concern about future fertility, that there is not necessarily a need for the vast, vast majority of women to actually freeze their eggs.

The real elephant in the room though is that pregnancy is more than just an egg and a sperm. There needs to be an actual pregnancy and that needs to be in the womb and needs to be carried, you know, for the best part of nine months.

Regardless of having eggs frozen, there does remain a cut-off point in terms of the ability to carry a pregnancy. We don’t actually know what that is and it’s fair to say that that age is getting gradually pushed back. But I suppose the key thing is that whilst a move like this for freezing eggs does attract headlines it doesn’t cover the whole issue.

So really, unless there are likely to be concerns with future fertility then the question arises why would you not look to get pregnant and carry the pregnancy in the normal way? I think necessarily this is a decision for each individual woman to have, with their partner, rather than rush headlong into something like this.

And again, with a lot of medical technologies, it generates the news but it doesn’t necessarily have a lot of applications for most people. Generally speaking I think most people are going to think, “Well, I’m going to have a child when I’m ready to do so,” and yes, there is a cut off age for women that does seem to be getting pushed out a little bit further. Women around the age of 45-46 where pregnancies are occurring. Sometimes there is assistance needed like IVF.

So once more, very nice to have a headline story and for those companies in America that are providing payment for their staff, that all seems good on the surface. Like a lot of issues in medicine though, it does create more questions than perhaps answers. So the key take home message in all of this is that pregnancy is more than an egg.

More information

For information on cryopreservation, its benefits, limits and risks, visit Cryopreservation.