Women are being misled into paying thousands of pounds for fertility treatment that might not work, according to a new study.
Writing the in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, leading experts said firms aren’t making public the limitations of certain treatments.
The paper focused on “egg freezing”, a process where unfertilised eggs are harvested from women’s ovaries then stored for later use.
Trade is booming. Just nine years ago there were 564 egg-freezing cycles performed in the US. By 2016 that number had shot up to 8,892.
But the actual success rate is low, with just 3.3 percent of frozen eggs for women aged over 36 resulting in a live birth.
If a woman decides she wants a child the eggs can be thawed, fertilised and implanted into her uterus—a procedure commonly known as IVF.
The process works better if eggs are frozen when a woman is in her twenties. But many women aren’t doing that—partly because the procedure is being marketed as more successful than it actually is.
The Harley Street Fertility Clinic in central London boasts that new advances mean a survival rate of over 90 percent.
The average age for a woman to give birth to her first child is getting later. In England it currently stands at 28 years old.
Women might decide to have children later in life for any number of reasons.
For instance, women are constantly being told they should wait to have a baby until they’re in a “suitable” relationship.
Years of stagnating wages, alongside a rising cost of living mean many can’t afford to raise a child. Almost a decade of Tory austerity has decimated child benefits, affordable housing and quality childcare options.
And many women feel pressured to reach a certain level in their career before taking time off to have a baby.
Egg freezing is often sold as a fashionable lifestyle choice for the 21st century career woman.
EggBanxx is a US company that freezes eggs, and offer loans to pay for the procedure. Its slogan is “Lean in. But freeze first”. It hosts “egg freezing parties” where women sip champagne and have expensive treatments pitched to them.
Some companies such as Facebook and Apple even offer it as part of employment benefits.
Bosses may want to appear progressive by offering reproductive treatments, but there’s an implicit admission they’re forcing women to choose between careers and children.
Egg freezing, and other fertility treatments do give some women the ability to have children they want.
But it’s left to unscrupulous
private companies to market these services at inflated prices, and put forward dishonest expectations.
Egg freezing is an individual solution to a social question—a woman should be able to have a child whenever she wants.
But Tory welfare and public service cuts, the lack of free childcare, and old-fashioned sexism at work, mean that fertility bosses are able to profit off women’s bodies.
Rationing in NHS means treatment is out of reach
A whole host of fertility treatments lie out of the reach of most ordinary women.
NHS funding for IVF is often described as a “postcode lottery”, with different areas offering very different levels of access to treatment.
NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) decide on the level of funding. They dictate the number of IVF attempts a woman can have and what criteria she has to meet.
These added loopholes can include restrictions around the Body Mass Index (BMI) and smoking status of both partners. And CCGs can deny access based on how many children a couple already has.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published guidelines in 2013, recommending women under 40 should be offered three cycles of IVF.
In reality, only 12 percent of CCGs offer this, a further 24 percent offer two cycles and an overwhelming majority—61 percent of CCGs—offer just one cycle. Some 3 percent offer nothing at all.
And access has been shrinking—in 2013 double the number of CCG’s offered the recommended three cycles.
Having children shouldn’t just be left to those who can afford it—anyone who wants fertility treatment should be able to access it.
Limiting care on the NHS does nothing to combat the misinformation spread by private companies wanting to make a profit.
It makes women—those who can afford it—more likely to turn to the privateers of Harley Street and elsewhere.
It’s a disgrace that women have restricted access to services just because of where they live.
We should fight for comprehensive fertility care, free at the point of need.