LONDON, England (LifeSiteNews) – Britain’s new Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced plans to increase the storage time of frozen embryos created by in-vitro fertilization (IVF) from the current 10-year limit up to 55 years.
As things stand, individuals and couples who choose to conceive through IVF, a method which involves the destruction of many newly-formed babies and is often paired with surrogate parenthood, are allowed to cryogenically preserve their children for up to ten years. After this point, the parents must choose to have one or more of the embryos implanted and taken through a full pregnancy, or let them be destroyed.
Javid has suggested that the limit be raised dramatically, to 55 years, with each 10-year interval providing an opportunity for the parents to either keep the embryos in storage, or have them killed.
The new rules would also apply to frozen sperm and egg samples.
Javid commented that “[t]echnological breakthroughs – including in egg freezing – have changed the equation in recent years and it’s only right that this progress puts more power into the hands of potential parents.”
He added that “current storage arrangements can be severely restrictive for those making the important decision about when to start a family,” overlooking the fact that, in the case of embryonic storage, a family already exists, and contradicting basic science proving the humanity of unborn babies.
“By making these changes, we are going to take a huge step forwards (sic) – not just for giving people greater freedom over their fertility, but for equality too,” the Health Secretary said.
The plan to increase the limit on frozen egg, sperm, and embryo storage followed a public consultation launched in 2020, apparently driven by research from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) which showed that eggs can be stored “indefinitely without deterioration” through a new technique called “vitrification,” according to a report in Engineering And Technology magazine.
The government consultation noted that in 2017, IVF treatment using frozen embryos had a success rate for women under 35 of just 27 percent, and that this is roughly equivalent to current rates of successful IVF-induced pregnancies using freshly fertilized embryos. The report confirmed that most women wait until they are 44 years of age or older (accounting for 35.5 percent of all embryo transfers) to make use of their frozen eggs or embryos, at which point the success rate is “very slim.”
Human Life International (HLI), a Catholic pro-life advocacy group, noted that IVF center reports show around 60 percent of frozen embryos to survive the thawing process, with the remaining 40 percent perishing. HLI also confirmed that the highest expected success rate for implantation is in women under 35 at around 31 percent, and that this already-low rate “declines steadily by age until it becomes about 3% for women more than 44 years old.”
Carol Sommerfelt, embryology lab director at the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), explained in a 2017 CNN interview that up to 75 percent of babies created through IVF and subsequently frozen survive the thawing process, but that, of the 75 percent that do make it to implantation, only around 25–30 percent successfully implant in the mother’s womb.
NEDC is a self-styled Christian organization which facilitates embryo “adoption,” a practice condemned by the Church due to the reliance upon surrogacy.
LifeSiteNews reached out to Dr. Helen Watt, Senior Research Fellow at the Bios Centre, an organization dedicated to examining ethical research in health care. Watt explained that the ten-year deadline currently in place on the use of frozen embryos inhibits children who have already been conceived, albeit by unethical means, from getting the chance to live.
“Any change in the law should lead not to the indefinite postponement of the future of those embryos already created, but to their parents offering them the same chance of growing up that any child should have,” Watt said.
While IVF is ethically reprehensible, Watt said that she “would welcome some reprieve for embryos currently in storage and their parents facing imminent deadlines. We hope in any case that IVF parents will come forward as soon as they can to give their embryos a chance of going to term.”
“It is wrong to deprive new human beings arbitrarily of the years they could have shared with their parents and any siblings, and we do not believe that manufacture and freezing is the best way for a new life to begin,” Watt concluded.
The Catholic Church teaches that since IVF completely diminishes the marital act as the means of achieving pregnancy, it can never be moral. Catholic teaching recognizes the abortive nature of IVF, and the associated practice of cryogenic preservation of embryos, as immoral.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in section 2377: “Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible [than surrogacy, for example], yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act … ‘Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses’ union.’”
In addition to the moral barriers to IVF and freezing embryos, many material challenges are raised by these processes.
Children born after being frozen as an embryo have a 30 percent higher risk of genetic abnormalities, according to the U.K. Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. They are also ten times more likely to suffer rare genetic disorders, like Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, a cause of cancer in children, according to Dr. Rosanna Weksberg of the University of Toronto.