Rich Vaughn Blog: Legal Time Limits on Cryopreserved Embryos Creates New Biological Time Clock

Legal Time Limits on Egg Storage Creates New “Biological Time Clock”

A new study by the London School of Economics argues that the U.K.’s statutory 10-year limit on storage of cryopreserved eggs or embryos has created a double standard and has, in a classic example of unintended consequences, replaced one kind of “biological timeclock” with another.

In many parts of the world the length of time frozen embryos or eggs may be stored is limited by law. In Sweden, for example, only unfertilized zygotes can be stored, and the storage period is limited to five years; in the U.K. the period for storage of frozen eggs or embryos is 10 years, whereas in the United States there are no legal limits on how long frozen eggs or embryos can be stored.

Many of the legal limitations were enacted decades ago when there was little research available on the “shelf life” and potential safety concerns with frozen eggs and embryos. Today, however, we know that cryopreserved eggs and embryos can remain viable and result in health live births far beyond 10 years.

Donna Dowling-Lacey, M.S., co-authored a 2011 case study of a successful live birth to a 42-year old woman, using a donated embryo that had been frozen and stored for nearly 20 years. As the article describes, the donated embryos were the result of an IVF cycle performed by an infertile couple using their own gametes in January 1990.  The embryo donor couple had a healthy baby boy in 1990, following the transfer of cryopreserved embryos using their own gametes. The donor mother was 34 at the time the embryos were fertilized.

In 1993, the couple signed a disposition consent form allowing five remaining frozen embryos to be anonymously donated to a qualified recipient. In 2009 a 42-year-old recipient was matched to the donated embryos, two of which remained viable after thawing. The recipient gave birth to a healthy baby boy in May 2010. Her pregnancy was the first resulting from implantation of a human embryo that had been frozen for that length of time, nearly 20 years. As the case study noted, “animal models have already shown that extended cryostorage does not affect embryo survival or healthy deliveries.”

Embryo and/or egg viability is only one motivation for jurisdictions in imposing time limits on cryopreservation and storage of embryos. Other considerations, such as legal complications related to inheritance, the legal and moral obligations of fertility clinics to preserve embryos, and even a shortage of storage space, have been cited.

In the U.K., The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 was updated in 2009 to provide women facing premature infertility, such as early menopause, to store frozen eggs for an extended period of time, up to 55 years. But no such consideration was given to women who might choose to store their frozen eggs for longer periods due to natural age-related declines in fertility. This imposed a double standard, writes Professor Emily Jackson of the London School of Economics Department of Law, whose paper, “‘Social’ egg freezing and the UK's statutory storage time limits,” was published recently in the Journal of Medical Ethics—one set of rules for women who might opt for cryopreservation of eggs for health reasons such as cancer treatment or a hysterectomy, another set for women who might need to delay procreation for career, financial or relationship reasons. The law also set a different standard for men, who are allowed to cryopreserve their sperm into old age.

The rule may also result in a number of unintended behavioral consequences. Assisted reproduction can be a way for women to avoid the pressure of the so-called “biological time clock,” allowing them to preserve their eggs at the height of their fertility but postpone gestation until later in life. But an imposed time limit on storage may push a woman to use frozen eggs before the legal clock runs out, creating a new version of the biological time clock. A woman may feel compelled her to use donor sperm if she’s still looking for “Mr. Right,” or may push her and a partner to procreate even if the family is not financially prepared for her to take time off from her career.

Likewise, as the School of Economics study points out, even though eggs frozen when a woman is in her prime years of fertility—30 and younger—have a greater chance of viability, she may wait to freeze her eggs until she is in her mid-thirties in order to have the option to conceive in her 40s.

The mandating of artificial legal limits on how long frozen eggs or embryos can be stored seems arbitrary and unfairly applied and undoubtedly forces people into the unnecessarily harsh choice between their dreams of having a genetically related child or rushing to start a family at an inopportune time. “By mandating the destruction of a woman's eggs during her reproductive lifespan, unless she happens to be prematurely infertile, the rules are illogical and their effects perverse,” Jackson writes.

She claims the storage time limits have been retained so that clinics are not obliged to store eggs indefinitely. “But this could easily be achieved by allowing for rolling time-limited extensions, as happens for women who are prematurely infertile,” she continues. More research is needed, she says, on the impact of a 10-year cap on egg storage on women’s behavior and decisions about whether and when to freeze their eggs.

Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn
rich@iflg.net

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
PEIYA WANG(王培娅)
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa
LUIS SOSA
Paralegal

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes
TONI HUGES
Paralegal

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
MIESHA COWART
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.

Kim
KIM DEVEREAUX
Paralegal

Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn
RICHARD B. VAUGHN
Founder

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, thoughtful and compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law. He is immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, which develops model legislation governing assisted reproductive services, and is a popular presenter to law students, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo
ELIZABETH TAMAYO
Paralegal

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Tania Steele
TANIA STEELE
Legal Assistant

Tania Steele joined IFLG as a legal assistant in early 2016 and has since been immersed in the complexities of assisted reproductive technology law. Tania received her Bachelor of Arts degree at Chapman University in Orange, California, and a graduate degree from University of Leicester in England, where she pursued an interest in art. In 2013, she accepted a volunteer position at Legal Aid Society of Orange County, where she helped with the intake of new clients and was inspired to obtain a paralegal certificate from Fullerton College. As an undergraduate, Tania lived in Italy and studied the Italian language. She is fluent in English, Spanish and Italian and enjoys assisting as a translator for many of IFLG’s international clients. Outside of the office, Tania enjoys concerts, films, reading and travel.

Linda Garrett
LINDA GARRETT
Legal Assistant

Linda Garrett graduated in 2010 from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, with a major in Sociology. Shortly after, she enrolled in a paralegal course at West Los Angeles College, where she fell in love with the field. In 2017, she earned her paralegal degree and joined International Fertility Law Group as a Legal Assistant. In her free time, Linda enjoys outdoor adventures and spending time with her nieces and nephews.

Sunny Chien
SUNNY CHIEN
Paralegal

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.