Freezing a woman’s eggs and implanting them at a later time became the subject of medicine and scientific inquiry beginning in the 1800s.
The subject raised legal, religious, and moral questions affecting the status of the women impregnated and their children. The issue is a quandary in the twenty-first century, as scientific advancements race toward the ability to produce babies-to-order.
Laboratory experiments at freezing mammal eggs began in earnest in the 1960s. Twenty years later, scientists were freezing eggs (oocyte cryopreservation) of humans. Two decades later, a human baby was born from a frozen egg. In 2012, the success rate reached so high the procedure was no longer experimental. A start-up company, EggBanxx: Smart Women Freeze, was founded to explain, advocate, and finance access to the best care and support for women struggling to conceive when they are ready.
Vitrification, according to Dr. Beth Plants at the Fertility Centers of New England, is the ultra-rapid cooling of eggs, protecting them from fracturing when thawed. Modern science allows eggs to be extracted, frozen, stored, thawed, fertilized, and transferred to the uterus as embryos whenever the woman decides it’s her time to become pregnant. The women fall into three groups:
* Women with early stage cancers
* Women receiving assisted reproductive technologies but unwilling to freeze an embryo, and
* Women wanting to have children in the future, but social, sexual identity conflicts, economic, medical, financial, and religious considerations forefend their decision for “natural” birth, and they opt to freeze their eggs.
Reasons for Freezing Eggs
Suffice to say, 80 percent who opt to freeze their eggs make a lifestyle choice. They delay childbearing for career pursuits and finding the right partner. Cancer patients and others freezing their eggs for medical reasons are small in number. An article by Natalie Joos, Harper’s Bazaar online (May 12, 2015), lays out the issues, so even a man can understand a woman’s point of view.
Science has advanced further, and eggs can now be genetically modified. Scientists are working on modifying DNA of human egg cells through gene-editing. They are working to eliminate inherited familial diseases. Harvard Medical School is attempting to eliminate genes causing breast and ovarian cancers from being inherited.
Ethics of Egg Freezing
There are ethical questions about these procedures. Some scientists and doctors are fielding questions about making designer babies from cutting-edge genetic screening and modification of preimplantation of embryos; eggs can be frozen until the scientific technology improves to produce perfect children with traits mothers want in their offspring: sex, hair and eye color, athletic ability, and intelligence are just a few.
Scientific American in 2016 declares, “More oversight is needed to prevent misuse of new reproductive technologies.” Private sector companies and university scientists are working industriously in the field, but it is imperative there be outsourcers who can raise the ethical and moral questions, assess the work, and represent society’s interests. Perhaps, they may even need to prepare society for designer babies of unnatural selection.