Parenthood and freezing eggs – what are the legal implications?

The age at which mothers give birth to their first child has been gradually rising for over 40 years. Many social and environmental factors are said to have contributed to the trend – the most frequent of which being that many women are postponing having children to allow them more time to develop their careers.

In some cases, that postponement is such that by the time the woman feels ready, conception is statistically certain to have become more problematic. Similarly, there is clear scientific evidence that the prospect of conception decreases slowly after women reach their early 30s.

These conflicting factors provide many women with a difficult dilemma. It is therefore unsurprising that there is an increasing interest in using medical techniques for postponing pregnancy and yet retaining the likely fertility of the human eggs.

Egg-freezing

The process of freezing human eggs is now a medical and scientific reality. It is often promoted as a method by which women can postpone conception and pregnancy but, at the same time, preserve the potency of their eggs.

The Human Embryology and Fertility Authority (HFEA) has given advice on the egg-freezing process. This includes the following:

  • The recommended period for which eggs can be frozen whilst retaining the prospect of fertilisation is ten years
  • Some women leave it too late to freeze their eggs, resulting in the frozen eggs being of a potentially lower quality and thus a reduced prospect of conception
  • The success rate of conception from formerly frozen eggs is mixed and can depend on the expertise of the clinics involved in the process
  • There is some evidence that egg-freezing is encouraging some women to delay conception and pregnancy with the possibility of lesser effectiveness in the process or complications

The effectiveness of the process

As reported by the HFEA, the statistics for the success of conception from frozen eggs show that for women whose eggs are frozen when they are under 35 years of age it is just over 8%, and for women aged between 35 and 39, it is reduced to a mere 3%.

It should always be noted that a woman who decides she would like to become pregnant using eggs frozen more than ten years previously has an even greater chance of failure in the process.

The legal implications of egg-freezing

The HFEA imposes very strict licensing requirements on the commercial companies offering egg-freezing in the UK. Of course, the authority of the HFEA does not extend to countries outside the UK. A child born to a mother after the freezing of her own eggs does not in any way affect the legal status of the child or the relationship of the mother to the child.

The legal father of the child is the man whose sperm fertilises the eggs previously frozen, just as would be the case if the eggs had not been frozen.

The wider implications

Becoming a parent is an emotive and life-changing decision. The prospect of postponing the process but retaining the effectiveness of the human eggs may appear attractive. However, as indicated above, it is most important that women bear in mind that the procedure is far from guaranteed to result in pregnancy.

The importance of obtaining and considering the best possible advice on the medical, legal and emotional implications cannot be over-emphasised.

If you or anyone you know are affected by the issues raised above and would like more information or some preliminary confidential advice, please contact one of our experienced experts in our family team by e-mail or telephone.

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