Freezing Eggs to Put off Pregnancy – Clever Business Move but Not Magic Bullet: Experts

In their hunt for female employees, Facebook and Apple have put forward a new service: they will pay women to put off their pregnancies, but doctors warn the offer could turn out to be a double-edged sword.

MOSCOW, October 20 (RIA Novosti) - Apple and Facebook offer their female employees the opportunity to put off having kids until later in life by freezing their eggs, the official representatives of both companies told the media.

This move is expected to attract more female talent; the new hires wouldn’t be pressured to give up on a key period of their career to have children in their 20’s and early 30’s.

The companies are ready to spend as much as $20,000 for the procedure of harvesting and freezing the eggs.

Facebook has been offering the service since 2014 and Apple is going to introduce this option starting next year.

Although companies consider their offer to freeze eggs to be a benefit for female employees, Glenn Cohen, a Professor of Law at Harvard University, believes there is a different message the companies are trying to send.

“I think you see tech companies - Facebook and Apple - making the plunge so publically, in part because tech has a relatively bad reputation about its ability to attract and retain women,” he told Radio VR. “So, they are taking a concerted view that this is going to be a PR benefit for them, and also going to help with their retention of women.”

“I'm not in the heads of the people who decided to do this, but it is no surprise to me that these two companies have done this in a very public way,” he added.

“I'm sure they test the market, trying to determine whether this would be seen as a plus or a minus for women. There are many who say that, really, what this is signaling is that if you want to be a woman working at this firm, we expect you to put off your motherhood to much later in life. So, there is a bit of a double-edged sword in terms of the way women will react to this offer.”

Professor Cohen also warned that although the procedure is no longer experimental, this is very far from saying it is a magic bullet.

“Many women who freeze their eggs and then want to use them when they are 40 or 45 will have difficulty conceiving,” he warned. “Many of them, at least at US-based fertility clinics, don’t have a lot of experience or a very high success rate with frozen eggs. So, I think women have to be cautious about this.”

Professor Cohen also noted that there are non-medical reasons why women could opt to not put off their pregnancies. 

“One thing to think about is grandparents,” he said. “You start having your children when you are 45, then the number of years your own parents can spend with the children is significantly reduced. And there might be other kinds of social [issues] that people are concerned about, even if they have this medical option.”

“Most of the data on giving birth late in life and motherhood concentrates on the age of the eggs,” he said. “So, the risk of Down Syndrome, for example, is correlated with the age of the eggs.  And for men too, by the way.  Although we can keep producing sperm quite well until late in life, there is some evidence that actually there is an increased likelihood of autism and schizophrenia from older fathers.”

Seema Mohapatra, an Associate Professor of Law at Barry University School of Law who specializes in Health Law, Assisted Reproduction, and Public Health pointed out the offer’s advantages.

“So, now that Apple and Facebook are paying $20,000, I do expect that for the people that were already thinking about it, the cost barrier has gone,” she told Radio VR. “But I hope that the people are fully informed, before they undergo the procedure, so that they know there is no guarantee, that you are not for sure extending your fertility, because there is a small percentage chance that you actually get pregnant with those frozen eggs.”

However, she warned that there is not enough information that is known yet in order for this process to be advocated as a sure-fire way to extend fertility.

“There have been reports of between 2,000-5,000 live births from frozen eggs, but none of those live births are from frozen eggs that were frozen for several years or decades,” she said.

“I think more and more Americans are having babies later in life, and more and more people all over the world,” Ms.  Mohapatra added. “But if we are talking about implanting, because it is physically possible to implant a mother that is in her late 40’es, then we are talking about having a teenager when you are 65; not only in terms of health consequences for the mother, who is older, because having a pregnancy later in life has some consequences for women, but in terms of energy. There might be benefits for families to have children, when they have more energy and they are healthier.”

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