Expert calls for State support for Irish women to freeze eggs between age 25 and 30
THE Government should examine helping women cover the cost of freezing their eggs, a fertility specialist has said.
Dr Ahmed Omar, medical director at the Beacon Clinic in Sandyford, said that despite our high birth rates, Ireland is likely to follow the same pattern as other developed countries and have fewer babies as time goes on.
It would be prudent for the Government to plan for this and look at measures that could help women conceive later in life if they wish, he said.
"If you look at our population, we still have a high birth rate in comparison to other European countries, but dropping birth rates are a phenomenon in advanced countries in general," said Dr Omar.
"I think sooner or later it's a problem that, unfortunately, we might have to deal with. I think State support is a great idea, and sooner or later fertility is going to be become less of a personal issue and more of a national issue.
"It's something that is worth considering for the Government."
It costs €3,000 for the extraction and freezing of eggs, and a woman must then pay a storage fee each year. The first year is often free and the annual cost varies.
In Beacon, storage costs €500 a year. In ReproMed clinics, the cost of storage is €300 a year.
Every month, Beacon provides egg-freezing services for three or four women who are looking to put their fertility "on ice" for a variety of reasons.
"We see patients of all age profiles. There are still a good number of women over 35 seeking the service, which is not ideal," said Dr Omar.
Egg survival and the possibility of achieving pregnancy greatly increases if eggs are frozen before a woman reaches 35, but for many younger women the cost can be a barrier.
"The problem of affordability is the main issue, because in an ideal world women aged 25 to 30 are the ones who really need to be considering it. In reality, the cost is an issue for the majority of women of that age.
"So they are deferring freezing their eggs, which means the impact might be negative on the quality."
Dr Omar's calls were echoed by the director of another Irish clinic that provides egg-freezing services.
ReproMed director Declan Keane said: "We have called on the Government many times before to offer both regulatory guidelines and funding to the Assisted Conception Units in Ireland."
"Egg freezing is a valuable tool for women who may wish to conserve their fertility potential at a younger age than they want to start a family."
ReproMed has also seen an increase in the number of women freezing their eggs thanks to improvements in technology.
However, the Department of Health said that while funding is provided for fertility preservation for oncology patients, officials are not convinced about the long-term safety of freezing eggs.
"People may also wish to defer having children for social, non-medical reasons," a spokesman said.
"While egg-freezing may appear to be an attractive strategy for having biological children later in life, ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval are medical procedures that carry medical risks.
"Although short-term studies may appear reassuring, data about the long-term safety and efficacy of egg-freezing are lacking."