Egg freezing for social reasons means that women have more reproductive options than ever before, according to arguments presented at the 2014 Louis Waller lecture held by the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) in Melbourne last night.
But it is essential that women are fully informed about the realities of their reproductive choices so that they can make the best decisions for their circumstances.
Three eminent obstetrics and gynaecology specialists, Professor Catherine Waldby, Professor Martha Hickey, and Dr Devora Lieberman debated ‘Eggsurance – False hope or sensible fertility planning? The pros and cons of egg freezing for social reasons’, the subject of this year’s Louis Waller Lecture. The annual event honours the pioneering contribution made by Emeritus Professor Louis Waller to the development of regulatory frameworks for assisted reproductive treatment.
Accordingly to Catherine Waldby, Professorial Future Fellow in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney, who set the scene about the social context of social egg freezing, the overwhelming concern of the women she interviewed on the subject was time.
She said that most of the women she interviewed in their late thirties felt young and at the beginning of their lives, so were incredulous at the idea that their eggs were ageing. They saw egg freezing as a possible way to synchronise their biological clock with other timelines in their lives. As one interviewee said, they were 'banking time'.
Arguing in favour of social egg freezing, Martha Hickey, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Melbourne, said that while the argument about a women’s right to choose NOT to have a baby has been accepted, there is still the question of why she cannot choose WHEN she will have a child.
However, Professor Hickey said that technology can solve biological problems, and current egg freezing technology means:
- Women can delay starting a family until the conditions are right;
- Age related miscarriage and genetic abnormalities in children may be reduced; and
- ‘Excess’ frozen eggs could potentially be donated or used for research.
Dr Devora Lieberman, a gynaecologist and IVF specialist at Genea in Sydney, argued the case against egg freezing for social reasons. She presented sobering statistics including:
- For a childless woman wanting to have children who had reached the age of 32, the chance that she would have a baby was less than 50 per cent.
- A 30 year old woman who freezes 24 eggs has less than a 40 per cent chance of having a baby.
VARTA CEO Louise Johnson rounded off the event by welcoming the many voices in the debate and by saying that after everything is argued for and against, technological advancements that provide women with more choice about their lives should be viewed as a positive development.
"Public conversation about these matters is really important because women in their late twenties and early thirties who are not in a position to have a baby can feel the pressure of their life choices if this is something they really want," Ms Johnson said. "Social and financial circumstances can make it difficult for both women and men to have children before a woman's fertility starts to decline in the early 30s. Unfortunately, the window of viable reproductive years is narrow for many women."
"There are definitely pros and cons in relation to social egg freezing. The fact that technological advancements provide women with more choice about their lives is a positive thing - but we need to keep in mind that egg freezing provides no guarantees and is very expensive," she said.
Recordings of the presentations and their accompanying slides are available at on the website.
Note: Presenters at the 2014 Louis Waller Lecture argued positions in a debate and any opinions expressed at the event were not necessarily representative of the views of individuals.
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