Social, ethical implications to consider

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the issue of egg freezing for non-medical needs cannot be decided by medical considerations alone.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the issue of egg freezing for non-medical needs cannot be decided by medical considerations alone. PHOTO: ST FILE

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the issue of egg freezing for non- medical needs cannot be decided by medical considerations alone.

Its social and ethical implications have to be carefully considered too.

In a written reply last week to Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui, who had asked in Parliament if the Health Ministry would consider allowing healthy women to freeze their eggs, Mr Gan said: "Egg freezing, like all other assisted reproduction techniques, is not a guaranteed solution or panacea to delayed marriages and parenthood."

There is also the question of the treatment of unused eggs, such as whether they can be used for other purposes.

The process of stimulating the production and collection of eggs for freezing can result in complications such as over-stimulation of the ovaries, bleeding and infection.

The risk of developing age-related complications during older mothers' pregnancies is also not mitigated by egg freezing, Mr Gan added.

 
 

The risk of a pregnant woman above the age of 40 developing pregnancy-related diabetes, for example, is up to 74 per cent higher than a mother under 30.

Such diseases affect the growth and development of the unborn child.

"There is limited information on the long-term outcomes of children born from eggs that were frozen for extended periods," Mr Gan said.

And while the medical concerns can be addressed by regulation, public education and counselling for potential users, there are also social and ethical implications.

For example, couples may delay having children, thinking they have frozen eggs stored, but may later find they cannot conceive using this method.

Licensed assisted reproduction centres here are allowed to carry out egg freezing only for women with medical conditions, such as cancer patients who have to undergo chemotherapy, which adversely affects their fertility.

But doctors interviewed said egg freezing, like in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedures, is a safe and very low-risk procedure.

According to Dr Manuela Toledo, a fertility specialist at Melbourne IVF in Australia, the risk of a surgical complication, such as bleeding or infection, is one in 1,000.

Theresa Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 18, 2016, with the headline 'Social, ethical implications to consider'. Print Edition | Subscribe