Egg Freezing: Why “Would-Be Grandparents" Should Know All the Facts Before Investing

Posted by Sona Makker May 16, 2012
Biopolitical Times
For most women in their 20s and 30s, deciding to spend $18,000 to freeze a batch of their eggs for future fertility treatment would not be easy. This is true especially given that the procedure is considered experimental: The frozen-and-thawed eggs might never lead to a successful pregnancy. But help from other “investors” – their parents – could tip the balance for many.

According to a recent New York Times article, more and more would-be grandparents are now trying to up their chances of eventually having grandchildren, by paying for their daughters to undergo oocyte preservation. The article mentions that there is no guarantee the frozen eggs will be viable, but notes that the gamble tends to “seem less weighty to patients when their parents share the cost.”

Unfortunately, the gamble that the eggs won't "work" is the only risk mentioned in this article - or in a string of others in mainstream sources like the Huffington Post and CNN. Altogether excluded in these accounts are the health risks of egg retrieval to women, and the unknown effects on children born from frozen eggs.

Egg retrieval is an invasive procedure that entails notoriously under-studied health risks to women, including exposure to high doses of hormones. We do know that the risks are significant. Short-term, they include ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome that can progress rapidly to require hospitalization. Studies on long-term cancer and other risks are particularly lacking and those that do exist are inconclusive. In addition, there is no good data about the relatively few children who have been born from frozen eggs (most estimates are fewer than 2000 worldwide). Samantha Pfeifer, the chair of a committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, wrote in Nature that “some of the chemicals used in the freezing process are toxic to embryos, and no one knows how much the eggs absorb. Moreover, there has been no systematic follow-up of children born from frozen eggs.”

These considerations are part of what led the ASRM, the fertility industry's professional organization, to deem egg freezing experimental. Now, some in the fertility industry are pressuring for removing that label, a move that would certainly encourage the practice, and thus increase the industry’s customer base and profits.

We can expect press releases and fertility clinic websites to ignore or downplay the risks associated with egg freezing. It’s too bad when articles in prestige media outlets do the same.