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The wrong basket
Facebook and Google's egg-freezing employee benefit

Silicon Valley tech companies are renowned for pushing barriers and being ahead of the curve. But the recent announcement by tech giants Facebook and Google that they will offer their female employees the option to freeze their eggs (as a workplace benefit) is a long way from progressive.

I’m a career woman in my 30s and I’m childless by choice. I have a master’s degree in Clinical Embryology (IVF science). And there’s no way I would freeze my eggs. Why not? Because I'm not at all confident it would work. And I’m not sure the risks are worth it.

Egg freezing, until very recently, has been purely an experimental technique, used when there are no other options. In general, we use it for women with cancer who don’t have a partner and want to preserve some small chance for their fertility before it is threatened by surgery or chemotherapy.

The Oxford Fertility Unit, one of Britain's top performing IVF providers, quotes a pregnancy rate per cycle of around 8 per cent for their frozen egg program – 8 per cent is a one-in-12 success rate. Selling someone with cancer this sort of insurance policy may be one thing, but selling it to otherwise healthy, fertile women seems at least misleading, if not grossly unethical.

Providers who actively promote “social egg freezing” (as opposed to fertility preservation pre-cancer treatment) will argue that the success rates in healthy women are likely to be much higher. And they may be right. But we just don’t know what those numbers are yet. Nor do we have any long-term studies assessing possible detrimental effects on the babies born using this technology. It is a significant gamble for a woman to exchange her natural fertility rate of 25 per cent per month in her 20s or early 30s for an unknown success rate later on. If her gamble doesn’t pay off, her natural fertility rate after age 40 is 5 per cent per month, with 50 per cent of those pregnancies resulting in miscarriage and one in 40 in Down Syndrome. And whether she uses frozen eggs or not, she faces increased risks of medical complications. Her risk of dying in a pregnancy is quadrupled.

Actively encouraging women to delay child-bearing is medically and socially irresponsible. Social egg freezing also reinforces the present reality that having children when you’re biologically most capable is detrimental to a successful career. It’s not progressive or enabling; it’s regressive and, frankly, anti-feminist.

There are so many other ways these tech giants could lead the field in attracting female talent and promoting women in the workforce. Women in the prime of their lives – both in career and fertility – should be supported, not restricted.

The media hype around the Google and Facebook policies has the potential to introduce the idea of social egg freezing to millions of women worldwide. But egg freezing is not the panacea for women wanting to “have it all”. Delaying pregnancy is risky no matter how you approach it. Putting your eggs in the frozen basket will not help one bit.

Nicole Krzys

Nicole Krzys is a Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She also has a master’s degree in philosophy. When she's not delivering babies she ponders over politics, gender issues and the meaning of life.

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