Whilst it may be sound family planning advice to keep eggs, or indeed sperm, frozen to plan against future unforeseen events, those choosing to do so in the UK should be aware that it is not as simple as “putting them away now and not having to worry about them again”.
In the UK, the general rule is that gametes (sperm or egg) must not be stored for a period longer than 10 years. Once the 10 year period has elapsed, the clinic storing the gametes must allow them to perish. This means that some may find that the gametes they placed into storage at a young age were destroyed before they decided to use them.
However, there is an exception to this rule allowing for storage to take place for longer. If during the 10 year period a registered medical practitioner gives a written opinion that the person whose gametes are being stored is prematurely infertile or is likely to become prematurely infertile, storage can continue for a further 10 years from the date of the written opinion. This can be repeated over and over again and in theory the gametes can be stored for a maximum of 55 years.
From the outset, a person can consent to their gametes being stored for up to the maximum 55 year period but every 10 years their licenced storage provider must receive the written opinion from a registered medical practitioner that the circumstances referred continue to apply. If that opinion is not received by the clinic within the relevant time period (even a day late) the gamete must be allowed to perish.
There are some practical steps that people with gametes in storage should consider:
- Check when the storage commenced and when the 10 year period will expire
- Check what arrangements are in place with the clinic to ensure that a medical opinion is received and noted on your file every 10 years
- Ensure that the clinic has your up to date contact details so they can contact you close to the 10 year deadline to make arrangements and discuss your options
- If you do not qualify for the time extensions, consider whether you wish to place some fresh gametes into storage towards the end of the 10 year period?
- Check how long you consented to your gametes being stored. The clinic can only store your gametes for the time period you consented to so if you only consented to storage for a short period of time which is about to expire you may have to complete another consent form to allow for a longer storage period