On 24th August 2017, the BBC’s prime time popular interest programme The One Show included a short piece in egg freezing. This clip starts with a cheesy connection to Queen Victoria’s fertility (Jenna Coleman was in the studio to promote the new series in which she plays the monarch) but is followed by an interesting package (4 mins 40 seconds duration) in which 37 year old Dr Zoe Williams examines the possibility of having her eggs frozen. In keeping with many other women, Williams argues that she hasn’t started a family as she is still waiting to find the “right man” a notion she describes as “social infertility”.
Williams goes to visit Prof Geeta Nargund, Medical Director of CREATE Fertility, to discuss vitrification technique which is expected to have higher success rates than egg freezing methods used in the past. Women need to have a hormone injection prior to collection their eggs. Eggs collected under sedation are then dehydrated and flash frozen in liquid nitrogen.
Not everyone is as enthusiastic about the process as Prof Nargund. For a different view, Williams goes to see Emily Jackson, a Medical Law Professor at LSE. Jackson worries that women are being oversold the prospects of egg freezing as a solution to their age-related fertility issues. Apart from anything else, egg freezing of necessity will require participating women to go through at least one round of IVF, a process that is not 100% successful even under more favourable circumstances. Jackson pictures a scenario in which women may end up living with “guilt” that they didn’t do more sooner to offset their childlessness.
In 2013 only 14% of people who defrosted their eggs had a baby. Nargund acknowledges that statistic, but argues that this relates to the previous method of egg freezing and, as and when they need to defrost their eggs, women who have used vitrification will be more successful.
Another issue is the cost of the process, typically £4000 (it is not available on the NHS). To “see if it is worth it”, Williams interviews Sarah who froze 5 eggs in 2015 – but it was unclear whether this answers her own question since, at the time of broadcast, all of Sarah’s eggs remain in storage.
Back in the studio with hosts Matt Baker and Alex Jones, we are introduced to Ali who was an early pioneer of the vitrification method, flash freezing her eggs in 2007 at the age of 41. She had the eggs defrosted when she was 47 and successfully gave birth to twins. By her own admission, Ali was very fortunate. She froze 27 eggs, but given her age many had chromosomal abnormalities and only 3 were viable. All three embryos were implanted (an exception to the usual limit of one embryo at a time because of her advanced age and the expectation that not all would thrive). The recommendation is that the younger you freeze your eggs the more viable they will be.
The linked clip includes Ali’s twins joining the group on the sofa to eat cake. I’m not sure I’d bother showing this bit to students, but the first 7 mins 40 would be of interest to those looking at fertility ethics and/or the science of conception.