Storage periods for gametes and embryos
The law specifies for how long gametes and embryos can be stored. The rules apply whether you are storing your own embryos or gametes for your future use, or donor gametes or embryos for purposes such as sibling pregnancies.
Basic storage periods
As from 1 October 2009, gametes and embryos can be stored for a basic period of ten years (gamete providers can choose a shorter period). When the statutory storage period comes to an end, the gametes or embryos must be allowed to perish, unless they qualify for extended storage.
Until 1 October 2009 embryos could be stored only for a basic period of five years. However, the new basic ten-year period applies automatically to all embryos in storage on 1 October 2009 as well as those stored thereafter. Following a last-minute change to the law (see our blog for more information on our involvement in this), all embryos that were in storage on 1 October 2009 now benefit from ten-year storage, even if their five-year storage period expired before 1 October 2009.
If you are storing donor eggs or sperm for sibling pregnancies, bear in mind that the time limit starts running from the date that the sperm or eggs are first stored, not from the date that you reserved them for your treatment.
There are certain situations in which the law permits gametes or embryos to be stored for longer than the basic statutory period. Generally speaking, this applies when you are storing gametes or embryos because you, or the person you are donating to, is prematurely infertile.
Extended storage applies in renewable ten-year periods (up to an overall maximum of 55 years' storage). To qualify, both gamete providers must consent to storage beyond ten years and a doctor must confirm in writing that either gamete provider or the intended recipient is 'prematurely infertile'. The doctor's certificate must be renewed before the end of each ten-year storage period in order to renew for a further ten years.
The law in relation to extended storage was changed significantly as from 1 October 2009 and is different from the previous rules in several respects:
- The old law allowed gametes or embryos to be stored until the gamete provider was approximately age 55, rather than for an overall period of 55 years.
- Once extended storage was obtained, the gametes or embryos qualified for the full term of extended storage without any requirement for periodical renewal.
- Storage of embryos beyond five years was not normally allowed where it was intended to use the embryos in a surrogate pregnancy.
- Extended storage was available only where either gamete provider was prematurely infertile; this prevented storage for donation (including gametes donated to a child or other relative for their future use, and most embryos created with donor gametes).
- There was a slightly different test for premature infertility, and it varied between gametes and embryos.
If you stored gametes or embryos before 1 October 2009, and qualified for extended storage under the old rules, these still apply to you unless you opt in to the new rules. Opting in to the new rules might give you a longer storage period, but you must renew your medical certification every ten years.
A last-minute change was made to the law before the new embryo storage regulations came into force on 1 October 2009. This allowed all embryos in storage for surrogacy on 1 October 2009 to benefit from the new rules, even if their five-year storage period had already expired. See our blog for more information on our involvement in this decision.
How we can help
Contact us if you would like our help with:
- Further advice on how the law applies in your situation
- Dealings with clinics or the HFEA in relation to storage.