October 4 - 5, 2022
Great Eggspectations: The Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects of Elective Egg Freezing
- Gurtin Zeynep
- Jackson Emily
- Harper Joyce
Egg freezing, also referred to as oocyte cryopreservation, is the technology of removing, freezing and storing a woman’s eggs, such that she may use them in the future. Until recently, this technology was only used in a medical context, as a precautionary measure to preserve the fertility of women undergoing cancer treatment or otherwise at risk of premature fertility loss. However, since 2012, egg freezing has been both marketed to and used by women more widely, for a range of so-called “social” or “elective” reasons.
Since a woman’s fertility naturally declines with age, “elective egg freezing (EEF)” refers to the practice of freezing eggs in order to extend fertility and to increase a woman’s chances of conception in the future. Research to date shows that the great majority of women electively freezing their eggs (e.g. in the US, UK, or Israel) are in their late thirties, and resort to this technology because they have not yet met the right partner to have a family with. Fearful of losing their fertility before they’ve had a chance to have children under what they consider the right circumstances, these women are opting to freeze their eggs to “buy some extra time”, to avoid “panic partnering” and to give themselves “an insurance policy” against childlessness.
Although EEF is still relatively new, with the American Society of Reproductive Medicine and the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology approving its use in 2012 and 2013 respectively, it has already become a key fertility technology, generating widespread media attention and public debate, as well as leading to crucial ethical and legal dilemmas regarding regulation, commercialisation, and the appropriate limits of maternity and reproductive aging. Moreover, EEF has already impacted a new generation of professional women’s social understandings around reproductive responsibility and agency, and created unprecedented reproductive choices and anxieties for them.
While EEF still remains illegal in some contexts, notably China, many fertility clinics across Europe and the US, as well as Australia and New Zealand, are already offering EEF to increasing numbers of single women. Internationally, there has been rapid growth of the fast-expanding EEF market over the last five years, with clinics engaging in active advertising campaigns to recruit women, including for cross-border treatment; a range of brokers organising “egg freezing parties” to destigmatise and demystify the process; and various celebrities speaking about their own experiences of EEF on social media and media platforms. While many women have great expectations of this technology, critics are already beginning to question the hype around EEF, the hope-mongering in its marketing, and the potential emotional, economic, or physical harms associated with it.
At this point in time, it is crucial that we gather to consider how EEF technology is interacting with society, and to map the key ethical, legal and social issues that it raises. This proposed workshop will be the first ever gathering of distinguished researchers focusing on EEF from different disciplines and from across the globe.