Healthy women should not be encouraged to freeze their eggs to help them get pregnant when they are older because the procedure has a poor success rate, fertility specialists said today.
It would not be a good use of NHS resources to fund egg freezing for lifestyle reasons said Richard Kennedy, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at University hospital, Coventry.
His comments came in response to proposals that women should be encouraged to freeze their eggs not only if they face cancer treatment that may affect their fertility, but also for lifestyle reasons.
The fertility expert, Gillian Lockwood, told the British Fertility Society (BFS) conference in Glasgow that more needed to be done to help those forced to delay getting pregnant, including those who had yet to meet the right partner or were in a poor financial position to raise a child.
Mr Kennedy, spokesman for the BFS, said less than 10% of women become pregnant as a result of using frozen eggs.
He said: "It is not the view of the BFS to encourage egg freezing for social reasons. It has a low success rate - percentage wise it's single figures. I think there are other priorities that should be addressed before the NHS stretches its limited resources to that end."
But the consultant supported the provision of egg freezing to cancer patients. He said: "That's entirely another matter as it's based on medical reasons. It should be one option for women concerned their treatment would affect their fertility."
Dr Hugh McLachlan, reader in sociology at Glasgow Caledonian University, who has written widely on ethics and fertility, said concern about NHS finances should not be an obstacle to women opting to postpone pregnancy.
He said: "If it is a burden on the NHS - too bad. That's what the NHS is there for, to look after our health. If people want to have a baby when they are older then they should be allowed to decide for themselves.
"I am not keen on the argument that somehow the state has an interest in whether we should do something because they are paying for the NHS."
But other fertility experts warned that a rise in the number of women freezing eggs for social reasons to delay pregnancy could divert valuable resources away from helping those with fertility problems.
Babatunde Gbolade, consultant gynaecologist at St James's University Hospital in Leeds, said: "Why should people who postpone pregnancy for lifestyle reasons use resources that should be directed to solving the problems of other women who cannot have children?"
Mr Gbolade said seven if egg freezing for lifestyle reasons was paid for privately, the NHS would bear the cost of looking after the older mother during her pregnancy.
He said: "Women over 35 normally carry more risks where their first pregnancy is concerned. Therefore, if we are going to have a large number of women in their 40s having children, healthcare resources will be further stretched because of the normal complications associated with age.
"It's not as if preservation doesn't have its own risks. For example, there is the potential for genetic damage, problems that may not become apparent until after the child is born."