British Government Lifts Ban on Frozen Eggs

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

London ( - British women with cancer who froze some of their eggs in the hope of someday conceiving a child may now be able to do so, following an announcement that the ban on implanting frozen eggs has been lifted.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the official body regulating fertility matters in the country, gave the go-ahead this week after several years of saying the procedure was too risky.

It acted after a group of women, backed by fertility clinics, urged that the British policy be changed. They pointed to the use of frozen eggs in the United States, where up to fifty babies have been born as a result of the procedure.

So far, there have been no reports of complications in these "frozen egg" cases, although the HFEA feared that without proper testing, the use of such eggs could lead to deformities - resulting in a situation reminiscent of the deformed babies born to women who took the morning-sickness drug Thalidomide many years ago.

Up to now, fertility clinics in Britain have been allowed to freeze and store eggs, but not to thaw or release them for fertilization attempts. Clinics refused to release the eggs, even in cases where the owners intended to take them abroad for implantation.

Most women who have had their eggs frozen did so before undergoing cancer treatment that made them infertile.

Where the technique has been used successfully, eggs are defrosted and fertilized with the husband's sperm according to the well-tried "test tube baby" procedure.

The HFEA said it has now granted one license, to a fertility center in London. Other cases would be considered on their merits.

The Authority's chairman, Ruth Deech, said in a statement: "The HFEA has always been sympathetic to the plight of women suffering a serious illness, such as cancer, whose condition or treatment may prevent them producing eggs, but we must guard against any potential risks to any child who may be born."

Experts have warned that the use of frozen eggs in in-vitro fertilization is far less likely to succeed than in conventional IVF procedures, which carry a success rate of around 20 percent.