Budget debate: Allow healthy S'porean women aged 40 and below to freeze their eggs here, says MP

To prevent abuse, Ms Cheng Li Hui said laws can be introduced, including capping the age limit at 40 for social egg freezing.
To prevent abuse, Ms Cheng Li Hui said laws can be introduced, including capping the age limit at 40 for social egg freezing.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It is time to rethink Singapore's policy on social egg freezing, and put in place laws and a proper framework for healthy women to store their eggs till they are ready for pregnancy later, Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) told Parliament on Thursday (Feb 25).

Currently, this is not allowed. Only women with specific medical disorders can undergo the procedure.

Speaking during the second day of the debate on the Budget statement, Ms Cheng said that a number of Singaporean women had to go abroad to freeze their eggs, as this is prohibited here.

"Why do we create this environment where healthy women have to bear the cost and risk of doing this procedure overseas?" she asked.

To prevent abuse, she said laws can be introduced, including capping the age limit at 40 for social egg freezing, given that the quality of eggs deteriorates drastically after 35, said Ms Cheng.

A couple must also be legally married before egg thawing and fertilisation can take place in the laboratory, she added.

There should also be a mandatory counselling session for women who wish to go through the procedure, so that they are fully informed of the financial costs and risks associated with the process. They should also be reminded that this does not guarantee conception later on, and expect the "emotional roller-coaster ride" that they will be undergoing, said Ms Cheng.

Barriers faced by couples going through IVF

The current ban on social egg freezing also means that Singapore does not have an egg bank. Older women or those with poor egg quality who want to go through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) have to source for donor eggs overseas, or adopt, said Ms Cheng.

A resident had told her that this option of sourcing for donor eggs was never made known to him when they sought IVF treatment at a public hospital, she recounted.

"His wife's eggs could not be fertilised, and after several extractions and failures, the emotional stress was too much and they gave up IVF. If there was the option of the donor egg, his wife would have loved the chance to carry a child herself and fulfil her dream of motherhood," said Ms Cheng. The couple eventually adopted a child from Indonesia.

Private fertility clinics can source for donor eggs overseas and have the procedures done here, while some couples have also frozen their eggs or conceived through IVF abroad, as the cost of going through this overseas is lower, said Ms Cheng.

But those who go overseas for such procedures or who need to access their frozen eggs or embryos in other countries may now face difficulties in transporting their eggs to Singapore, given the current travel restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic, she said.

Stepping up awareness, allowing more to go through genetic screening

Ms Cheng also called for the use of MediSave for fertility health checks to be considered, or if possible, for such checks to be fully subsidised if done within the first three years of marriage. This will encourage couples to seek information on fertility issues and access treatments and tests earlier, she said.

She also suggested allowing more to go through pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) of embryos for IVF. This screens for the correct number of chromosomes to improve the chances of conception.

"We should allow more to screen their embryos if they have suffered miscarriages, provided (that there is) no gender selection," she said, noting that a number of couples have chosen to seek treatment in Johor Baru, as PGS is allowed there.

The PGS service was rolled out in 2017 as a pilot, and is accessible only to patients who meet specific criteria, such as those who have gone through two or more recurrent pregnancy losses. Some were concerned that it will lead to ethical issues, such as those who select embryos for non-medical reasons, such as gender.

Ms Cheng said she is confident that Singapore can learn, adopt and adapt the best practices from other countries which have legalised social egg freezing to suit the local environment.

"Through all the families and women I encountered who've shared with me their stories, I believe that women undergo voluntary egg freezing because they truly want to be a mother," she told the House.

"This is a beautiful and wonderful thought but unfortunately out of reach for some here in Singapore. I hope that as we continue to push on with our plans to reopen society and our economy in a safe and sustainable way, we will be able to also relook voluntary egg freezing and open our hearts and minds to support the hopes and dreams of many families here in Singapore."