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Frozen Eggs

Women freezing their eggs against future infertility –or, as a lifestyle choice.  We’ll look at the science and its limits.

Colour-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of a human egg by Yorgos Nikas. (Flickr)

Colour-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of a human egg by Yorgos Nikas. (Flickr)

For most of history, when women were out of eggs they were out of luck when it came to reproducing, to bearing children.  Then came the freezing of human eggs.  Formally for women facing fertility-damaging medical treatment.  For couples in fertility treatment.

But also, it turned out, for women getting older who just weren’t ready pregnancy.  Didn’t have the right partner, the right job, the right circumstances.  So they’d freeze some eggs.  For when the time came.

This hour, On Point:  women freezing their eggs against future infertility.  How far does this go?

-Tom Ashbrook


Samantha Pfeifer, associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society.

Jennifer Hayes, a woman who has frozen her eggs.

From Tom’s Reading List

Wall Street Journal “There is growing evidence suggesting that freezing an embryo after fertilization and thawing it for use in the woman’s next monthly cycle leads to higher pregnancy rates, compared with using the embryo immediately. A recent scientific review of three small randomized and controlled studies found that 50% of women got pregnant after receiving in vitro fertilization, or IVF, treatment using a recently frozen embryo. By contrast, women receiving fresh embryos had a 38% pregnancy rate. The review is slated for publication in Fertility and Sterility, the journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.”

Scientific American “More than 900 babies have been born using the technique, which the ASRM called “experimental” in 2008. With that designation, the society approved of the use of egg freezing only in clinical trials overseen by an institution review board (IRB). Despite the ASRM policy, clinics have increasingly been offering the technique outside of this framework as a clinical service for a fee. Now the society is effectively giving such clinics a green light, a development that is likely to encourage consumer groups advocating for insurance providers to cover the procedure.”

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  • Ed75

    Please comment on the dangers to women of having their eggs removed from their bodies, not a simple procedure.

  • Ed75

    The egg, as I’m told, is just slightly too small to be seen by the naked eye, it’s a little smaller than the head of a pin. Marvellous.

  • ttajtt

    does this ok the Gay Marriage questions? or a like.  what we no lack communication of foreplay, we got E-porn, finger tip convince? no need for pack gathering, google it, don’t waste it recycle it, save the mail – free mail jobs.  

  • LavenderSage

    I was just recently diagnosed with cancer this past week, and my husband and I are looking into this option because the medication I will be on will prohibit my ability to have children in the future. We’re glad to have this option available as we are both young and don’t have any children yet. We are also going to consider adoption, but we are grateful that we don’t have to permanently “shut the door” on our chance to have our own biological child, too, due to this unforgiving disease…

  • ToyYoda

    If this  technology allows women to have children at a much older age, can an older woman’s body take the stress of childbirth, and more importantly, would an older woman want to go through the trouble?

    I’d imagine that they would outsource childbirth to younger women, or to the poor.  Let’s hope artificial in vitro placentas will be developed in tandem with fertility technology.

  • Coastghost

    Is “rational choice” in this regard in any way distinguishable from the rational choice exercised by millions of families in China who have aborted half a generation of females so that their nation now has a cohort of millions of males with no prospects for mates? Choosing live male birth is a rational exercise of birth control, but it comes with consequences, too.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    This will also tie closely to the issue of surrogate mothers – if any woman doing this waits too long, or gets some condition that would be detrimental to pregnancy, or dies (which creates its own set of ethical questions), or just decides they want the child but not the pregnancy, the eggs could be fertilized and implanted into a qualifying surrogate just as easily.

  • Jasoturner

    I certainly think this is great technology that can help women have children who otherwise, for whatever reason, cannot do so at an earlier time.  But it also strikes me that only a tiny fraction of the world can afford such technology, or have access to it.  In that light, this discussion strikes me as somewhat rarified, much like a discussion on, say, sailboat maintenance might be.  This is not meant to be snarky, it’s just a reminder that sometimes I think we Americans can forget how rich we really are compared to many other parts of the world.  Does the panel envision this becoming a widespread practice in the future?  Will a woman in, say, Iraq, have access to procedures like this in 2025 or 2050?

    • Yar

      In a new world theocracy all young girls will have all of their eggs removed at birth. It will be marketed like circumcision as a health improvement. Crazy thoughts, right?

      • Coastghost

        In a new world gynocracy, all women will be able to go sperm shopping when it suits. It will be seen as a new and hard-won “reproductive right”. This is not a crazy thought, however, this is perfectly rational.

    • RosieY

      To be fair, I believe people are pretty aware of the point you’re making. Every media discussion of freezing eggs that I’ve heard has acknowledged that the cost of the procedure makes it unaffordable for most people. It may be possible that as the technology advances, the cost will decline, and it will become more accessible. I think it’s too early to tell.

  • orourke72

    I did have this procedure done as a 39-year old women this past year. Did this because I was single. Collected 8 mature eggs, considering going though the procedure one more time. Wish I had a few more banked away – considering doing it again.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    So – who own the eggs? Can a woman sell her eggs? Is there going to be new industry of buying eggs to be sold at some later point?

    • Guest

      There is already a large industry where people can buy donated eggs, however the eggs are usually not frozen in those types of transactions.

  • Yar

    What about storing sperm, autism rates go up with age.  Should young men store their sperm to avoid birth defects? 

  • ToyYoda

    If this technology allows older women to have children, there are a number of ailments related to placental health.  Also, another factor here is the quality of men’s sperm diminish rapidly with age.

    If women are concerned with the health of their child, then the implications are certain.  Women will have to seek a younger woman to have their child to ensure the best placental environment for their kids, and they will have to seek a younger dad to get healthy sperm.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

    As a 36 year old single guy, I’ll state it very bluntly: if you are single at 42 you are that way by choice whether you are willing to admit it or not. The choice may be prioritizing other things over a relationship, or choosing to be a difficult person to be in a relationship with, or choosing to do things that make it difficult to meet people (this is the category I fall into), or whatever… but it is a choice, and accepting that fact and taking responsibility for it is a required first step in doing something about it.
    That call reminded me of the truth that “The only common component to all of your failed relationships is you.”

    • myblusky

      You are looking at a very narrow part of the equation. While I agree that introspection and fixing one’s problems is a good solution if a person falls into that category,  you aren’t taking into consideration the women who have careers that don’t allow families until they are older. Example – a woman who becomes a surgeon spends 10 years in school and then has to practice. She has enormous debt to top it off. The optimal time to have children is later in her life so freezing eggs is a viable solution for this and many other cases. Many of these women are already married or possibly thinking about being single mothers, but can’t do it because of their careers/grad school etc.

      Blaming them and saying it is a personality defect or choice is just a very limited view. Science is giving options to women so let’s not take some backwards view. Our understanding of science is evolving and the people need to evolve with it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kyle.rose Kyle Rose

        Even though I was responding to a specific caller, I’ll play. Listen to the words you’re writing: “you aren’t taking into consideration the women who have careers that don’t allow families until they are older”. You mean, the choice they made to prioritize career over family? At any rate, I have no problem with freezing eggs and using them later to have a family: I agree that any way science can help is great. But don’t at the same time try to claim that life did this to you: unless you had an illness or accident or some other misfortune out of your control, getting to your 40′s without children is a choice, pure and simple. The sooner people accept this, the sooner they will make more rational decisions about family planning, and the less potential for regret there will be.

  • Yar

    Should parents be allowed to freeze the eggs of their daughters?

  • Jennifer Esser

    Tom says this is opening up options for women, which is true, but as another commenter alludes to below, how many women can actually afford it? How much DOES it cost?

    • RosieY

      It can cost anywhere from approximately $6,500 to $15,000 per cycle according to CNN. Some women will need to go through more than one cycle in order to produce enough viable eggs.

  • jo1Mama

    I married one month before my 41st birthday.  While trying to get pregnant, we also began looking at adoptions.  After 3 miscarriages, we adopted a baby girl, who is 9 years old now.  Being her mom is the most amazing experience I have had or could imagine.  There are many babies who need families

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/O3TDWXCTD5IQNEMIO4B44XQT7M Katherine

    We need to start talking about making families when we talk about sex education with our children. Our mainstream culture advocates physically safe, but emotionally vapid sexual relations where one’s twenties are no longer a time for looking for a lifelong partner. The thirties become a desperate marriage market and disappointment abounds. Freezing eggs is only a part of the solution and it doesn’t really address the corner into which we’ve backed ourselves.


    Greetings: I’m 46 and married and am curious to know where does someone like myself fit into this equation. The reasons I prolonged pregnancy was income and job. I always believed that it would happen naturally. The cost of IVF or IUF or even freezing my eggs is more than we can afford. I believe that this new science/technology is WONDERFUL but for those who cannot afford it loose out on the chance of having a biological child. I am curious to know the socio/economic make-up of women who can afford or cannot afford these new science technologies? Also, are their assistance programs for women? 

    • James Turner

      Assistance programs? Oh for crying out loud! I just don’t get it — why spend tens of thousands of dollars in effort to have a biological child when there are already multitudes of children in need of a loving and stable home.

      Anyone with the desire to become a parent could receive the same love, joy and rewards from an adopted child that would be assumed from a biological child.

    • RosieY

      Currently there are no financial assistance programs for women who want to freeze their eggs unless they meet certain medical circumstances. For example, some women need chemotherapy to treat cancer and it is very likely the chemotherapy will result in infertility. There are some insurance companies and charitable organizations that will pay the cost to freeze the woman’s eggs in those types of cases.

  • Coastghost

    “Experimental humans conceived via experimental science, should serious developmental complications ensue, can be experimentally terminated.” What stands in the way of the application of this logic?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1741643803 Charlie McNamee

          The human person is on a continuum which begins at conception and develops (evolves?) within his/her mother’s body until it begins breathing on his/her own from birth. He/she then grows (evolves?) through stages during which he/she begins to experience the outside world in such a way that he/she learns more and more about his/her place in the cosmos until in adulthood he/she begins to realize that his/her days are numbered and if his/her growth in knowledge and experience is to continue (keep evolving) it needs an awakening (death?) to an inconceivable reality in some way or other “beyond” this cosmos. Some wise persons have suggested that the direction is “within”. The keynote address of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel (indicates that we must “change the way we think about reality, …for the kingdom of heaven is within.”(Mk.1:15-16)
             Do we live in a world that for all practical purposes has rejected it’s Judaeo-Christian-Islamic-Hindu-Buddhist traditions to accept the materialistic ethics that only what we “know by scientific analysis” is true? Scientific processes don’t prove things are true, but rather by physically reproduced results prove that previous beliefs are untrue. No science has ever “proved” that a fertilized egg, zygote, embryo, fetus or baby about to be born is not an evolving human person, thus it MUST be presumed a human being until proven otherwise.
            I find that screaming (blinded)conservatives on this issue are equally disturbing to me as screaming (or blinded) liberals; but I have to say that in light of my beliefs, I cannot support Barack Obama on this issue, despite the fact that I do support him on most  issues. I can understand how many feel so much compassion for women on these issues, but I do believe that suffering in many people’s lives constitute their “cross, holocaust, sacrifice or dukha” in life. I do belief, also, that the strength to deal with our sufferings can and will come from within. We still have the obligation to assist women, poor, sickly, handicapped and the disenfranchised with our charity and empathy, but that our charity and our empathy should and must extend to these among us who are truly the most vulnerable and in consequence are provided with the greatest security known to mankind, his/her mother’s womb.

    • RosieY

      You say: “No science has ever ‘proved’ that a fertilized egg, zygote, embryo, fetus or baby about to be born is not an evolving human person, thus it MUST be presumed a human being until proven otherwise. ”

      Whether or not you believe a zygote and then fetus to be morally equivalent to a fully developed, born human being is a philosophical stance. It’s simply not true that all people “MUST” take the same stance as you. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IZPMZM2NJ6CWSCE2VRRATRC3YY Lem Stanz

     “Recently, a series of case reports and small studies has suggested that
    births involving assisted reproductive technology
    (ART) may have an increased risk of imprinting
    disorders such as Beckwith–Wiedemann syndrome and Angelman syndrome.” http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/18/12/2508.long
    Read the whole article, and all the other research available. If you don’t want overly scientific reports, here’s a link to CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57537248/in-vitro-fertilization-tied-to-birth-defects-risk/

    or google: epigenetics and invitro fertilization

    Epigenetic research is showing (since the 1980s) that what happens to the egg and sperm, especially in the case of invitro fertilization (outside the womb) can effect not only your unborn child, but generations to come. The strange environment of the fertilization dish – a non-womb vessel – seems to have an effect on the zygote and can modify your child’s epigenetic code.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IZPMZM2NJ6CWSCE2VRRATRC3YY Lem Stanz

    What happened to survival of the fittest?  What happens to the genetic code when you freeze it? Are we looking at a 2050 human population that looks, and behaves, like Jurassic Park? Just because the science exists doesn’t make it right or moral or good. Have we arrived in the Brave New World? (re-read it) Where are we going?

  • http://ruthnemzoff.com/ Ruth Nemzoff

    When I wrote my first book in 2008 Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult children, I was approached by one of these firms and offered free advertising if I would suggest parents encourage their daughter to freeze their eggs. I declined, the line between commerce and health can easily be blurred.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      There appears not to be any line between commerce and health these days. Likewise, it seems there is no distinction between patient and consumer (customer). In the past couple of years on several occasions I have heard patients referred to as customers. I find this deeply disturbing.

  • Sarah Eltantawi

    Thank you for this show, Tom. Very interesting.

  • Gregg Smith

    It looks like the dude from “Jack in the Box”.

  • Pingback: Insuring Against Cancer Patients’ Infertility | Cognoscenti

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