Interview: Francoise Baylis on the ethics of social egg freezing


Professor Françoise Baylis is Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy at Dalhousie University. She recently urged women not to freeze their eggs in order to focus on a career. BioEdge asked her to expand upon her advice. 

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Xavier Symons: Egg freezing is supposed to allow women to ‘have it all’: they can freeze their eggs at a fertile age, and ‘come back’ to childbearing after a successful career. What’s misleading about this picture?

Françoise Baylis: Media commentary on social egg freezing describes egg freezing in anticipation of age-related fertility decline as a “reproductive backstop,” a “fertility insurance policy,” an “egg savings account,” a way to “rewind the biological clock,” an “anti-aging technology”, and so on.  It would be polite to call these types of descriptions “misleading.”

Egg freezing is being sold to women as a guarantee of future fertility. Does science support this?   

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM): “Even in younger women (i.e., <38-years-old), the chance that one frozen egg will yield a baby in the future is around 2-12%.” [1] This hardly counts as a “guarantee of future fertility.”  Moreover, it is worth noting that research published in 2011 reports that the average age in the US for egg freezing is 37.4-years-old. [2] It is very likely that these women are looking at less than a 2-12% live birth rate.

What do you think are the social issues that are driving women to avail themselves of egg freezing services?

The media reports on women having to choose between a career and a family.  At least one study, however, suggests a more complicated picture which supports my view that what we have here is a social problem that requires a social response, not a technological “fix”. According to Hodes-Wertz and colleagues, the vast majority of women (88%) do not pursue childbearing earlier because they lack a partner. Only 24% of women identified professional reasons for not pursuing earlier childbearing [3].  The question we need to focus on is why is it that successful, professional women lack partners?

Facebook and Apple have offered their female employees financial help for egg-freezing fertility treatment. Is this an advance for women?  

Facebook and Apple want to keep their young women at work producing for the company.  They have no vested interest in having them reproduce for themselves.  A true advancement of both women’s and men’s interests would have these powerful companies adopt family friendly work policies such one-year parental leave following the birth of a child or the legal adoption of a child, on-site subsidized daycare, flexible work arrangements (including diminished travel responsibilities and job sharing) and support for re-entry into the workforce. [4] [5]

References:

[1] http://www.sart.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM_Content/Resources/Patient_Resources/Fact_Sheets_a nd_Info_Booklets/ Can_I_freeze_my_eggs_to_use_later_if_Im_not_sick-FINAL_8-13-14.pdf

[2]  http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282%2811%2901693-1/pdf

[3] Hodes-Wertz B, Druckenmiller S, Smith M, Noyes N.  “What do reproductive-age women who undergo oocyte cryopreservation think about the process as a means to preserve fertility? Fertil and Steril 2013 100(5): 1343-9.

[4] Baylis F. Left out in the cold: Seven reasons not to freeze your eggs. Impact Ethics. 2014 
http://impactethics.ca/2014/10/16/left-out-in-the-cold-seven-reasons-not-to-freeze-your-eggs/

[5] Baylis, F. Left out in the Cold: Arguments against non-medical oocyte cryopreservation. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2015;37(1):64-67.




MORE ON THESE TOPICS | egg freezing, family planning, fertility, social infertility
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