Storage periods: eggs, sperm and embryos

girl in sunny fieldThe law specifies the maximum periods for which eggs, sperm or embryos can be stored (assuming that the egg and sperm provider consent to storage for this period).

The basic maximum storage period is ten years.  When this period comes to an end, the eggs, sperm or embryos must be allowed to perish unless the extended storage rules apply.

Special rules allow extended storage for people storing eggs, sperm or embryos because they are prematurely infertile.  Storage can be extended in ten-year periods up to an overall maximum of 55 years.

The law says that, at each renewal, the gamete providers must consent to extending the storage, and a doctor must confirm in writing that either gamete provider (or the intended recipient if the gametes/embryos are from a donor) is 'prematurely infertile'. However, in 2014, widow Beth Warren won a legal case which argued successfully that payment of an annual storage fee could be intepreted as deemed renewal of the ten year storage period.

The law in relation to extended storage was changed significantly as from 1 October 2009. Patients who stored embryos or gametes before 1 October 2009 and qualified for extended storage under the old rules can choose whether to use the old or the new rules. The new law is different from the previous rules in several respects:

  • The old law allowed embryos or gametes to be stored until the gamete provider was approximately age 55, rather than for an overall period of 55 years.
  • There was no need to renew the extended storage every ten years.
  • Extended storage was not normally allowed where it was intended to use embryos in a surrogate pregnancy.
  • Extended storage was not normally allowed if the intended recipient who was prematurely infertile was not one of the gamete providers (i.e. if the gametes or embryos in storage were from a donor)..