3rd Sep, 2013
By Eoin English and Catherine Shanahan
Leading fertility experts have clashed over the merits of social egg-freezing, with one doctor warning women against wasting their money on trying to have a baby in this way.
John Waterstone, the vice-president of the Irish Fertility Society and medical director of the Waterstone Clinic, branded as “unethical” the promotion of the cryopreservation technique by certain clinics that have yet to prove it works in their labs.
“It remains the case that no clinic in Ireland and very few in the UK have frozen eggs, thawed them, and produced a baby after fertilising them,” said Dr Waterstone.
“It is the case that more than one Irish fertility clinic is now offering social egg freezing to the general public, never having proven that the technique works in their hands. To me, this situation appears unacceptable and unethical.
“The public need to be made aware that whatever the wisdom of social egg freezing, pragmatically, any woman who spends money on egg-freezing in Ireland today is likely to be throwing that money away.”
Clinics that offer social egg-freezing are targeting women who choose to delay motherhood.
Dublin-based Sims IVF Clinic, which is expanding to Cork, began offering social egg-freezing this year. Medical director David Walsh said that, as long as women were given accurate information and appropriate counselling when considering freezing eggs, he did not have a problem with it.
“As long as women know there is a very low probability of getting pregnant or having a baby, I don’t think it’s a problem,” said Dr Walsh. “Women might feel they do not want to pay €4,000-€5,000 for a one-in-10 chance of a baby, but at least it gives them an option for the future.
“The counter-argument to what John [Waterstone] is saying is that some chance is better than none,” Dr Walsh said, adding that the reality is, because egg-freezing is relatively new here, statistically significant information about live birth rates would not be available for years.
At the Clane Fertility Clinic, licensed since February for social egg-freezing, clinical consultant Osman Shamoun said the technique “is a very acceptable form of treatment”.
“It’s being practised worldwide and there are over 1,000 documented pregnancies worldwide from this treatment,” said Dr Shamoun.
Egg-freezing involves a three-month consultation and counselling process, which includes the medical stimulation of egg production. Experts harvest eggs before subjecting them to a deep-freezing process for storage at temperatures as low as -196C for as many as five years. The process can cost from €3,800 to €5,000 per cycle.
Dr Waterstone, a consultant gynaecologist in Cork University Maternity Hospital and Bon Secours, challenged clinics offering the technique to freeze, thaw, and fertilise eggs and produce a successful pregnancy afterwards before offering the treatment to the public.
“Just imagine a woman freezing her eggs, having put her faith in the fertility clinic concerned, confidently deferring trying for a family until her 40s, and then failing to have a baby with the ‘young eggs’ which were frozen? This scenario is not only possible but highly likely,” said Dr Waterstone.