Why the experimental label should be removed from egg freezing.

Analyzing the latest research affecting women.
March 15 2010 10:19 AM

Is Egg Freezing Unfairly Marginalized?

Why the experimental label should be removed from the procedure.

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Until more doctors produce good data, can the experimental label really protect women from inexperienced doctors? In theory, yes. Doctors must disclose their clinic outcomes, including the survival, fertilization, and embryo development statistics for thawed eggs and birth rates. The idea is that doctors' transparency would help women make better choices. But it doesn't always work that way. That's because in experimental medicine, consumers don't often expect doctors, apart from the pioneers, to have a lot of practice. This is compounded by another variable that's unique to egg freezing: Because a woman is freezing her eggs to be used years later—perhaps when she's found a partner and failed to conceive the old-fashioned way—she may reason that her doctor will have gained more expertise turning eggs into babies. This lag effect excuses inexperience.

In the mainstream marketplace, inexperience doesn't sell as well, especially as more doctors who had been deterred by the experimental label get into the business. Patients shopping for doctors would be more likely to hold them accountable by demanding positive data. Doctors looking for patients would have more incentive to invest in quality research before hanging out their shingles. With more competition, professional standards would rise and the price might even go down.

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Ideally, as doctors churn out clinical results the field can find a middle ground, preserving the relevant elements of the experimental label—such as informed consent—while enjoying the medical and social acceptance of the mainstream. Here are some benefits of mainstreaming: OB-GYNs once hesitant to acknowledge an experimental procedure might broach the subject with their patients and recommend respected practitioners rather than leave women on their own to comb the Internet looking for doctors' ads or fast-track their romantic relationships. Women might stop thinking about the procedure as a questionable, extreme act and stop waiting until the last days of their fertility to undergo it. Rather, they might embrace egg freezing as a credible layer of reproductive choice and freeze their eggs in their early to mid-30s, when the quality would be better and they have an increased chance of success. With less handwringing, more energy could be spent encouraging women to educate themselves about the risks and do their due diligence before selecting a clinic. Several industry efforts are under way to establish frozen-egg birth registries so patients could compare doctors' track records.

An experimental label won't protect women from putting too much faith in a technology that might not work for them. Some undoubtedly will, and the ASRM can't stop them. In the meantime, the doctors' organization shouldn't scare women from taking advantage of the good science out there.

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