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Clinic to help women freeze their fertility clocks

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Saturday, May 19, 2007 | 0 comments

Updated Wed. May. 16 2007 10:34 PM ET

Women who are worried they may be too busy during their most fertile years to have children have a new resource to ease their worries. Canada now has its first clinic offering women the option of storing their eggs while they're young to use to get pregnant later.

The ESRM Biotech centre is offering healthy, fertile women the option of freezing and storing their eggs while they are young and not yet ready or able to have a family.

The clinic administers fertility drugs to their clients to have them produce multiple eggs, they then harvest the eggs through a small surgical procedure, freeze the eggs and store them in cryopreservation tanks.

Later, when the woman is ready to become pregnant, the eggs can be thawed, fertilized with sperm from her partner, and transferred to the uterus as embryos.

Such services already exist for both men and women who are at risk of losing their fertility, such as those about to undergo chemotherapy for cancer. But this is the first clinic in Canada that will offer the service for a fee for healthy, fertile women who are concerned they may have to delay pregnancy.

Many women who have heard their biological clocks ticking know that they can't fight biology. It is well documented that women's fertility drops slightly around 27 and then drops significantly after age 35.

In fact, age is the single most important factor affecting infertility and the chance of miscarriage, which is why so many older women have trouble getting pregnant.

"I see patients coming to me at age 38, 39 and their hearts are broken," says Dr. Essam Michael, the clinical director at ESRM Biotech.

"A frozen egg at age 31 or 32 is better than a fresh egg at 41 or 42."

Crystal Houser is planning to use the service. She may be just 20 and a student but she is thinking ahead. She wants to freeze her eggs so that she can focus on her career now and have her young eggs preserved for when she's ready to become a mother.

"I have the opportunity. I have the eggs, so there's no reason why I shouldn't do it," she told CTV News.

Renee Hegi also plans to use the service. She's 32 and wants to have a child but has not yet found the right partner.

"If I don't meet someone until I am 38, then I still have my eggs there," she says. "It gives you insurance."

The cost of the service is around $5,000 -- a small price to pay, say the women, for the choice of extending their biological clock until they decide they are ready to have children.

But some ethicists say this is a controversial trend. They worry that the trend will create a generation of older parents.

"I do worry this is a technology that will allow you defy menopause," says Francoise Bayliss of Dalhousie University.

"And thinking of a much older woman getting pregnant in her 50s or 60s, that is a self-centred way of looking at a family."

Health Canada says it is reviewing the practice of egg freezing. The reproductive technology will be considered a "controlled activity" under the 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act and will have to be licensed.

If Health Canada concludes that the technology is still "somewhat risky," it could curb the number of clinics licensed to freeze eggs.


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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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