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Egg Freezing: Risks to Women and Children Unknown

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Written by Marcy Darnovsky for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Originally published by the Center for Genetics & Society. Published here with permission of the author.

To its credit, the fertility industry’s professional organization – the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) – has said plainly that freezing women’s eggs remains an experimental procedure that should not be “ marketed or offered as a means to defer reproductive aging.” To its discredit, ASRM does little to see that even its own members adhere to its conclusion. (If this sounds familiar, you may be thinking of the similar disregard in which fertility clinics hold ASRM guidelines on the number of embryos they should put in women’s wombs, and on the use of embryo screening for sex selection.)

In fact, hundreds of American fertility clinics now offer “social egg freezing,” and there are thousands of online  ads promising women they can “extend their fertility” by putting their eggs on ice. This disjuncture is examined in an article in this week’s  Nature titled “ Growth of egg freezing blurs ‘experimental’ label” [registration required].

Science writer Alison Motluk points out that chemicals used in the freezing process are toxic to embryos, though no one knows how much the eggs absorb; that there have been no systematic follow-up studies either of children born from frozen eggs (fewer than 2000 worldwide) or of success rates, especially for women in their late thirties who are the primary users; and that the procedure is very expensive. She notes that several other widely used assisted reproduction techniques, including pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and injecting sperm directly into eggs, were also rushed from lab to patients with next to nothing in the way of animal studies or clinical trials.

Ironically, proponents of social egg freezing offer this record of untested techniques as an argument in  favor of removing the procedure’s experimental label.

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