Even the name is off-putting. “Social egg freezing”, the latest ethical frontier in reproductive medicine, reeks of the nightmare scenarios found in novels such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. So far this form of cryogenics is not exactly big business but, as increasing numbers of otherwise healthy women choose to postpone starting a family until they are over 40, opting to freeze their eggs when they are younger becomes a real possibility. No longer need they worry that, when they decide to become pregnant, their body won’t oblige. For about £30,000, motherhood can be guaranteed until they reach 50 or thereabouts. Yet, while science is trumpeting this liberating technology, it is surely not just the eggs that are being frozen but prospective mothers’ emotions as well.

Whether motherhood can be put on ice is the emotive subject of a conference tomorrow in Edinburgh, held by the Progress Educational Trust. Among the doctors and ethicists who will be speaking is gynaecologist Dr Sarah Martins Da Silva, a consultant at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School’s Assisted Conception Unit in Dundee. As she has said ahead of the event, she is shocked at how many professional, high-flying women in their mid-40s are dismayed to learn that they can no longer conceive because they are too old. “Forty,” she says baldly “is a big line in the sand for female fertility.” After that age the risks to baby as well as mother escalate, yet it seems too many of us remain ignorant of this fact.

Medical science, however, means that young women who wish to play Russian roulette with their future can freeze their eggs – the law allows them to be stored for a maximum of 10 years – and have them thawed and implanted when the time is right. Although only 16 babies in Britain have been born this way since 2001, nearly one thousand women every year freeze their eggs, in anticipation of a later-than-ideal pregnancy.

There was as much condemnation as praise when Apple and Facebook offered their US employees egg-freezing as a perk of the job. Now the US military does the same. Talk about mixed messages. Is this an act of thoughtful altruism, freeing staff from worry, or a sinister method of further controlling women’s minds and lives by making it harder to leave work and have a family at the optimum and most sensible age?

For those in occupations that require years of education and training, for whom stepping off the ladder in their late 20s or 30s would seriously damage their prospects, you can see the appeal of the new ice age. It seems a painless and indeed responsible way to reduce the inbuilt inequality most professional women face when deciding to have a family since, even after the delivery, the burden of bringing up children usually falls largely on their shoulders.

And lest we forget, it was medicine, in the form of the contraceptive pill, that ushered in the biggest revolution in the history in women’s independence. Those tiny blister packs far outstripped women’s suffrage or human equality acts in the immediate difference they made to billions of child-bearing age. Perhaps one day egg-freezing will be looked on in the same enlightened light. Yet somehow I doubt it. Call me a Luddite but I fear the consequences of something as unnatural and fallible as putting eggs into the freezer as if they were diamonds in a banker’s vault. Preventing pregnancy is one thing; timetabling birth as if it were a train is entirely another. Just as no contraceptive is entirely reliable nor, it’s fair to assume, is cryogenics.

But there is a bigger issue here than the mechanics of the science. Even if the procedure were to work as perfectly as a Swiss watch, it throws up enormous questions about where on a list of priorities we put children and how we view parenthood.

What does it say about someone in a position to have a baby who cannot or will not because of the demands of her career? Could it be that she doesn’t really want a child but is simply afraid to admit it? If the inconvenience or disruption means she is forever procrastinating, perhaps she could be encouraged to see that there is more to life than having children. Millions of women, either deliberately or by default, have never had a baby and learn to accept – or have always known – that there are countless other ways to have a meaningful, rich existence.

Nor does every woman have the good fortune to meet a partner with whom she wants a child when she is at her most fertile. Those drumming their fingers while they await their soulmate might think it far-sighted to bank their eggs, in the hope that he (or she) will one day appear. But does that mean they will live the next decade in a state of perpetual anticipation rather than enjoy today?

Whatever the reasons behind the decision to freeze one’s eggs, there is another complication. Nature made us fertile when we’re young for a reason. Although we are living longer, our psyches have not yet caught up with our longevity. Is a woman in her mid 40s or older in the right frame of mind for the messy, exhausting, all-consuming business of childrearing? And if she is, can the same be said of her partner, or friends? You can’t help but wonder if social egg freezing is another brick in the wall of denial we are building around ourselves against the approach of old age and what lies beyond.

Of course, even for those who would not countenance taking this leap of faith, in our pressured and materialistic era there is no such thing as the perfect time to start or add to a family. I doubt it has ever been so tricky. The careers of both parents will inevitably suffer to some extent and plans will always be disrupted. Not only will savings accounts rarely feel big enough to cope with a new arrival, but neither will the poky flat or house. As George Orwell almost wrote, four bedrooms good, two bedrooms bad.

Yet for all the headaches and problems it brings, having a baby remains the most powerful and overwhelming experience any mother or father can have. In this respect, little has changed in centuries. Those anxious hours before and during delivery are an unforgettable reminder of the fragility and miracle of human existence. I defy any parent to say that having children has not changed their perspective on almost everything, including their own place in the world.

But the chance to bring up a child is a privilege, not a right. It is not something to be put onto a bucket list, to be addressed when other boxes have been ticked. Even less is it something to be entrusted to a test tube smoking with ice. In all but exceptional cases, family ought to come first. To do otherwise is to bring cold-hearted calculation into an experience that should result from a burning desire.