There are a number of reasons why people undergo fertility treatment to either have children immediately or to preserve their fertility. Depending on the circumstances of each person undergoing fertility treatment, eggs, sperm or embryos that are not used immediately can be frozen for future use. This consultation asks people for their views on whether the Government should make changes to the length of storage for eggs, sperm and embryos stored for fertility treatment. 

We would like to ask you 21 questions about what you think should happen. The full consultation document is available to read on gov.uk . This consultation will close on 5 May 2020.

Possible policy options 

One policy option would be to retain the current provisions set out in the legislation without making any changes. This option will maintain the current storage limit of ten years for eggs, sperm and embryos, and the provision to allow storage for up to 55 years in cases of premature infertility. Alternatively, the current legislation could be changed to alter the storage limit for eggs, sperm and embryos. Possible changes to the legislation are set out below. 

Possible changes to the 1990 Act 

One issue to consider is the impact of a ten-year limit on the storage of eggs in particular. It has been suggested that this limit may no longer be appropriate for women in view of improvements to egg freezing efficacy and the fact that eggs are more fertile if frozen at a younger age. 

One policy option to address this issue could be to increase the statutory storage period for eggs, sperm and embryos beyond ten years.

This may, however, have the effect of increasing the number of people becoming pregnant when they are older, with increased risk of complications for both mothers and babies. 

Consideration should be given to the impact of prolonged storage on children born using gametes or embryos stored under these circumstances. This ought to include consideration of safety and quality issues related to prolonged storage, for example increased genetic problems or degeneration. We will take into consideration the latest scientific evidence. 

Another issue to consider would be that of the additional demand for storage facilities if the statutory storage period is increased. Patients are often reluctant to allow their eggs or embryos (less so sperm) to be allowed to perish, even if they are minded not to use them in their own treatment or donate them to others. With a longer storage limit they could remain in storage for significantly longer and possibly indefinitely. 

Long–term storage carries the risk that clinics will lose contact with the patients (with the resulting non-payment of storage fees). Clinics cannot destroy gametes or embryos before the maximum storage limit is reached if contact is lost, unless they have written agreement to this from the gamete or embryo providers. 

Patients are not obliged to agree to any local arrangement that their gametes or embryos can be disposed of if they do not maintain contact with the storage centre or pay the storage fee, with the result that the material stays in storage until the statutory limit is reached, with the storing establishment, including those in the NHS, meeting the continuing costs of that storage. 

Another policy option could be to reduce the storage limit to fewer than ten years to address the concerns related to increased maternal age risk and storage burden issues. 

Please answer the questions on possible changes to the 1990 Act to express your views on whether the statutory storage period for eggs, sperm and embryos should be changed. 

Possible changes to the 2009 Storage Regulations 

The 2009 Storage Regulations allow for extensions to the statutory storage period of ten years, if the person storing the embryos or gametes can provide a written medical opinion that he/she is prematurely infertile or likely to become prematurely infertile. 

Extensions can be given for up to ten years at a time up to a maximum storage limit of 55 years. 

The 55-year maximum period recognises the potential fertility needs of adults who were infertile at birth or rendered infertile while still young children, for example after receiving treatment for childhood cancer. This allows gametes collected from the young patient or donated for their use as adults by a close family member to be held in storage until the child reaches adulthood and wishes to have a family of their own.

Private fertility clinics usually have an upper age limit for women needing fertility treatment of between 50 and 55. In the UK, menopause generally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age being 51. 

Please answer the questions on possible changes to the 2009 Storage Regulations to express your views on whether changes should be made to the provisions that allow for extensions to the statutory storage period of ten years, if the person storing the embryos or gametes can provide a written medical opinion that he/she is prematurely infertile or likely to become prematurely infertile.

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