Debate over egg freezing procedure

April 1, 2008 9:47:26 AM PDT
More and more women are putting off childbearing and many are now considering freezing their eggs to preserve them for later. The debate over this procedure is heating up.

If the technology to freeze a woman's eggs is available -- should a fertility clinic provide the service to patients, even if that technology still has a ways to go?

"I haven't actually met the right person that I want to have a baby with yet. I thought I would have - he's out there somewhere," said Lisa, froze eggs.

Lisa didn't want to give us her last name. But she did want to speak out on behalf of women like her. At 39, she realized her chances of having a child were diminishing. She started reading about the possibility of freezing her eggs. And she grew more and more frustrated when she heard opinions like this one:

"Egg freezing should not be offered as a method to defer reproduction for later in life. It's not a good process or technology yet," said Dr. David Adamson, M.D., Dir., Fertility Physicians of Northern California.

Doctor David Adamson's clinic in San Jose, Fertility Physicians of Northern California, would turn a woman like Lisa away if she asked them to freeze her eggs. He's also president of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, which recommends against freezing eggs.

"We just think the chances are too low, it's not right to take her money" said Dr. Adamson.

Even Lisa's OB/GYN told her not to do it, that the chances of success were just too low. But she pressed on and found the Reproductive Science Center of the San Francisco Bay Area in San Ramon.

"We do offer it to the general public with very strict criteria and very careful counseling," said Dr. Louis Weckstein, M.D., Reproductive Science Ctr. of the Bay Area.

Doctor Louis Weckstein and his partners have decided to leave the decision making up to the patient and their clinic is part of a growing number of clinics that are responding to the increased demand for this procedure. They do give the facts to all women who want to freeze their eggs - noting that the procedure only has a small chance of succeeding. The clinic also notes that they won't do the procedure for women over 40, that's because their chances of having a healthy baby from freezing their eggs are just too low.

"Peak fertility for women is early to mid 20's," said Dr. Weckstein.

But how many women in their 20's are thinking about freezing their eggs? Lisa hopes her story will convince women to think about it sooner than she did. Her doctors were able to retrieve some of her eggs - but not as many as they would have liked.

"At the end she told me this is a function of your age, and I said I know, isn't that ironic?" said Lisa.

Back in San Jose, Doctor Adamson says he will freeze the eggs of a cancer patient facing chemotherapy because this could be her last chance of fertility. Beyond that, he'd like to see more research prove that it is a safe, effective procedure before he recommends it, even to his own 30-year-old daughter.

"I'm encouraging her to think about the broader issues of her family life with respect to how she makes day to day choices in terms of what she does," said Dr. Adamson.

As for Lisa, she is fully aware that there could be a less than 10 percent chance that her frozen eggs will lead to a successful pregnancy. But she still feels better knowing she has a little insurance as she waits for Mr. Right. She says everyone has warned her this process may not work, but her response is, what if it does?

All of the doctors we interviewed agreed more research is necessary, and the clinic in San Ramon is currently conducting a study. They're looking for women who want to freeze their eggs, they'll do it for free if you agree to be part of the study.

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