Women who opted to freeze their eggs in the hope of delaying motherhood are now facing a desperate race to protect them from destruction under a controversial 10-year storage rule.

A Glasgow fertility clinic says it has already had to discard a number of stored eggs because of the legal clause, potentially shattering women’s hopes of having their own biological child.

The Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine has also indicated that it currently has a number of eggs in storage which will reach their 10-year limit next year, leaving the women affected with the dilemma of what to do with their stored eggs.

In some cases it could mean the women face having their eggs fertilised using donor sperm which would extend the storage period but deprive them of their chance to use a partner’s sperm in the future. It also raises the issue of being able to use the embryos in the future without the permission of the donor.

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The other option is for women to move their frozen eggs abroad, which would then mean they have to undergo any future treatment in another country.

It’s understood the clinic is currently working with at least one woman whose frozen eggs face being destroyed unless a solution can be found.

Leading expert in fertility treatment at Glasgow University and founder of the Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine, Professor Richard Fleming, has now written to UK Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price branding the time limit as both discriminatory and unscientific, and calling for an urgent review.

He said: “The consequence of this unjust and discriminatory regulation is that women who were wise enough to freeze their eggs as a precaution when young, following forward thinking advice, are now facing agonising decisions of what to do with their stored eggs at the end of the storage period.”

His call comes after the issue was raised earlier this month in a bill introduced to the House of Lords by Baroness Ruth Deech QC. The Storage Period for Gametes Bill aims to extend the time limit that egg and sperm can be kept frozen.

Baroness Deech has called for the government to “show compassion” and give women hope by relaxing the ten-year limit.

Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, women who have undergone medical treatment likely to affect their fertility can freeze their eggs for 55 years, regardless of how old they are at the time the eggs are frozen.

However, a woman who opts to freeze her eggs for “social” reasons, can only do so for 10 years. After that, the eggs must either be fertilised or destroyed.

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Ironically, storage can be extended if they have become “prematurely infertile”, usually as a result of cancer treatment or surgery to remove the ovaries.

In many cases women who have paid several thousands of pounds to store their eggs while they pursue careers or for other social reasons are being confronted by the dilemma at a stage in life when their fertility has declined – leaving them with few options for a biological family.

Prof. Fleming pioneered IVF treatment protocols in the early 1980s and was a director of the first UK clinic to introduce the process of vitrification for embryo and egg cryopreservation. He wrote: “Since that introduction, the numbers of cases of women wishing to preserve their fertility through egg storage has steadily increased both locally and widely in the UK, and many cases are now at or approaching their 10 year storage time-limit.

“They are a small, but growing, group of courageous women who are generally reluctant to discuss these matters widely in public. The professional and learned groups have singularly failed to address the injustice intrinsic to the current law - despite numerous attempts at encouragement from individual voices.”

He described the discrepancy between women storing eggs for medical reasons compared to the choices faced by women storing them for social reasons as “officially sanctioned form of discrimination. It is incompatible with modern concepts of individual freedom.”

Amanda Masson, family law specialist and partner at Harper Macleod, said: “Women who were among the first to utilise the availability of scientific advances by freezing their eggs will now be approaching that 10 year time limit.

“Arguably the existence of the (10 year) rule constitutes a breach of the fundamental human right to family life. As a matter of natural justice it seems unfair that women who took steps to preserve their fertility may now be prevented from conceiving a child with a genetic link to them due to the existence of an arbitrary rule.

“A further concern is that the regulations create a conflict between a patient and their clinician, since a situation can arise where a medical practitioner believes that proceeding with treatment is in the best interests of their patient, yet they are unable to treat because of the rules set out by the HFEA.”

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A spokesperson for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the UK fertility regulator, said: “As the UK fertility regulator we are aware that certain elements of the Act are behind as society and science has moved on.

“We have heard the voice of many patients and doctors calling for a review and extension of the current egg freezing time limit.

“We understand patients’ frustration if they don’t feel ready to use their frozen eggs in time for the 10-year storage limit, especially as doctors encourage women to freeze their eggs early to preserve peak fertility.

“While any change in the 10-year storage limit would be a matter for Parliament as it requires a change in law, the time might be right to look at what a more appropriate storage limit could be in future that recognises both changes in science and in the way women are considering their fertility.”