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Frozen eggs and sperm storage limit increased to 55 years

Storage limits for eggs, sperm and embryos will go up to 55 years under government plans that ministers say will give people greater choice over when to start a family.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the current limit of 10 years was "severely restrictive."

Modern freezing techniques mean eggs can be stored indefinitely without deterioration, research from the Royal College of Obstetricians has suggested.

The plans need parliamentary approval.

The Department for Health said there would be extra conditions around third party donors and use of a person's frozen cells after they have died.

Currently, when the 10 years is up, prospective parents must decide whether to undergo fertility treatment or have the cells destroyed, unless samples have been stored due to medical procedures, such as chemotherapy for cancer.

Under the new system, they would be given the option to keep or dispose of the frozen cells or embryos at 10-year intervals.

Mr Javid said: "This new legislation will help turn off the ticking clock in the back of people's minds."

He added: "By making these changes, we are going to take a huge step forwards - not just for giving people greater freedom over their fertility, but for equality too."

British Fertility Society chairman Dr Raj Mathur welcomed the plans.

He said extending the time limit "protects the ability of all our patients to make reproductive choices for themselves as individuals and couples."

Julia Chain, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said the earlier a woman froze her eggs the better the chance of a successful IVF pregnancy later.

She said: "This will women a lot more choice and flexibility about when they can start having their families."

What is egg, sperm and embryo freezing?

It is a way of preserving fertility by collecting eggs, sperm or embryos and storing them so it may be possible to have a baby at a later date.

The process involves collecting around 15 eggs through IVF, cooling them quickly then storing them in tanks of liquid nitrogen.

The eggs are then thawed when needed, and those that have survived intact will be injected with sperm.

Sperm samples are usually divided between a number of containers called straws before freezing so they can be used in multiple treatments.

Embryos are frozen during fertility treatment in case the first round is not successful or to try for a sibling.

They can be frozen when they're just a single cell, at the two to eight cell stage or later in their development.

By Jennifer Meierhans, BBC News


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