Let single women freeze eggs? Many say yes in poll

Storage of women's frozen eggs at NUH
PHOTO: Let single women freeze eggs? Many say yes in poll

EIGHT in 10 support giving single women the option to freeze their eggs, yet only 30 per cent say they would actually do it.

The high cost of treatment, concerns over the risks as well as the discomfort involved in the process of retrieving eggs were some reasons given for the reluctance, according to the first survey here on social egg freezing.

The study was commissioned by the Bioethics Legal Group for Reproductive Issues in Singapore (Belris), an independent and non-profit think-tank for reproductive technologies and treatments in Singapore.

Social egg freezing - freezing one's eggs for non-medical reasons - is illegal here. Women can do so only if, for instance, they are undergoing treatment that damages fertility, such as chemotherapy.

The survey of 410 women aged 20 to 45 showed that 81 per cent believe single women should have the option to freeze their eggs. Single women were more supportive at 90 per cent, compared to married ones (74 per cent).

While there appeared to be plenty of support for social egg freezing, only 22 per cent said it would be "somewhat likely" or "very likely" that they would opt for the procedure themselves. About 30 per cent said it would be "somewhat unlikely" or "very unlikely". The rest were unsure.

Among those who would consider elective egg freezing, 66 per cent see it as a "safety net", in case they develop health issues that affect fertility. About the same proportion were drawn to the option of preserving their fertility with the freezing of younger eggs, to increase pregnancy chances later in life.

Six in 10 of those who would consider the procedure said it was to take the pressure off having to rush into having a baby until they are emotionally and financially ready.

Respondents were also asked how they thought allowing elective egg freezing would affect society. Almost 70 per cent felt it would result in Singaporeans getting married later. About 60 per cent thought it would lead to an increase in health-care costs. Half indicated that ethical, religious or moral issues would arise.

The report suggests there is a positive attitude towards elective egg freezing, said Belris executive director Harpreet Bedi. "It provides a snapshot of current local attitudes in the context of recent media coverage on the issue of reproduction in Singapore," she said.

Social egg freezing became a talking point last November after the Health Ministry announced it was reviewing the procedure's medical, scientific and ethical implications.

The ministry is cautious about allowing it for non-medical purposes for reasons such as the lack of data on the long-term effects on children born from using frozen eggs.

The process of egg freezing is the same as that for in-vitro fertilisation. A woman has to undergo ovarian stimulation to encourage the production of multiple eggs, which are then retrieved by inserting a needle through the vagina. The procedure carries some medical risks, including the possibility of bleeding and infection.

There are also social concerns. Women may get married later because of the "safety net" it provides, while children may be raised by older parents.

But those supportive of elective egg freezing believe it could help improve Singapore's fertility rates. Fertility doctors also say more women are asking about the procedure and are even going abroad to do it.

Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO) president Laura Hwang said the topic required greater study. She added that at a recent SCWO forum for heads of women's organisations, members expressed a need for more information on the procedure, and a greater need for clear guidelines in view of ethical concerns.

melpang@sph.com.sg


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