Freezing a woman’s eggs can potentially give her much greater freedom in family planning. This procedure is nothing short of revolutionary — and, thanks to the largesse of Facebook and Apple, more accessible. But here are 10 questions to consider along the way.
Both Facebook and Apple grabbed national attention with recent announcements that their employee benefits will include paying to retrieve, freeze and store female employees’ eggs. Freezing a woman’s eggs, a medical practice only about a decade old, can potentially give certain women much greater freedom in family planning. That inconvenient biological clock that often ticks most loudly just as a woman’s career is taking off can now be reset for a few years — or perhaps indefinitely.
This procedure is nothing short of revolutionary — and, thanks to the largesse of Facebook and Apple, more accessible. It can cost $10,000 per month to retrieve the eggs of a fertile woman — and many months of egg harvesting may be necessary for success. In addition to the retrieval fee is the annual storage fee, which runs in the five figures.
But for the lucky few, what freedom this offers! A generation ago, I was bringing up the rear when I had my first child at 35. When my son arrived a few months shy of my 40th birthday, I looked downright crazy. And beyond life in the suburbs, in both urban and rural America, age 40 was more often a marker for grandmas, not moms.
So the thought that we might put off parenthood for almost as long as we’d like, and have our employer pay for it, is tantalizing. But here are 10 questions to consider along the way.
1. Most women undergo egg freezing because they do not have a suitable partner. What if I freeze my eggs until I meet “Mr. Right” — but never meet him?
2. What about the fact that no more than half of frozen eggs result in a baby? The process is fraught with failure, even with the use of sophisticated hormones. Once harvested, that egg must be fertilized, then implanted, then develop into a full term pregnancy, and finally produce a live birth. With only 2,000 babies in the world born from frozen eggs, none of them older than 10, do we know enough about possible risks?
3. Will smaller, less profitable businesses now feel pressured to offer this benefit in order to attract and retain top talent? If so, is it a good use of corporate resources?
4. What happens to frozen eggs that are not used? Can they be donated? Sold? Used for medical research? Destroyed? What happens if you leave the company without using your eggs? Will your employer have the final say in their disposition?
5. What is the legal status of a frozen egg? Who owns it in the case of a divorce? What if the wife dies, and the husband remarries? What about gay marriages? Or prenuptial agreements? How long should an egg remain frozen?
6. What is the moral status of a frozen egg? Can we really just discard the ones we don’t need, like an old pair of shoes, or do they have some intrinsic moral value? And who decides?
7. Are there shadows of a “Brave New World” at work here? What about the woman who doesn’t want to freeze her eggs, but seeks parenthood in her twenties, in the conventional fashion? Will Facebook and Apple welcome her choice — or will she be perceived as less than serious about her career? When she misses an important meeting to stay home with a sick child, will she have to watch her back while her more ambitious colleagues, their eggs safely frozen, jockey for position? Is this apparently munificent benefit actually coercive?
8. What about the wives of male employees? As this benefit is extended to them, will they feel pressure to “do the right thing” to advance their husbands’ careers? Will being a good “corporate wife” now include making the right reproductive choices?
9. What’s easier for corporate America — to pay for this procedure, or to develop policies that lead to a more family-friendly workplace?
10. What about the fact that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still does not recommend the freezing of eggs for normal, healthy women?
Facebook and Apple have positioned themselves on the cutting edge of employee benefits. Their intentions are good. But we must be careful what we wish for, whether from a medical, ethical or cultural perspective. Sometimes, as the old commercial used to say, It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.