For women and AFAB people who wish to have children someday, it's difficult to reckon with the fact that our bodies don't always enable us to live the lives we want, or accommodate our changing circumstances. But since the 1980s, oocyte cryopreservation, or egg freezing as it's colloquially known, has seen the narrative around parenthood change drastically, with more people feeling enabled to pursue other life ventures, unencumbered by the biological shackles of our eggs' natural shelf life.
While it began as a way to preserve the child-bearing potential of oncology patients before they underwent treatment, egg freezing has been a wonder for those wanting to pursue parenthood later in life, as our natural egg formulation wanes as we get older.
But though millions of people have been able to have children on their own terms because of the wonders of egg freezing, the reality of the process, particularly the financial reality, presents some issues around accessibility. As it stands, egg freezing is only subsidised by Medicare when a person has a condition affecting their fertility, such as severe endometriosis or cancers that require chemotherapy. Even then, the Medicare rebates typically only cover about half of the total costs.
And since it can cost around $10,000, that puts many people with little disposable income in the position of making extremely difficult life decisions.
Even for those with private health insurance, the associated costs — including hospital admission, any anesthetist fees, medication, consultant fees and the egg retrieval itself — may not all be covered. Prices also differ according to the chosen clinic.
So with demand only increasing, with many women reconsidering their options post-pandemic, the question of whether non-medical egg freezing, (also known as social egg freezing) should be partially, or even fully subsidised by the government, has gained momentum.
Of course, there are ways to become a parent without freezing your eggs, but should the matter of egg freezing accessibility be a public health concern? According to one recent study, the majority of women think so.
A survey conducted by Monash University has found that more than two-thirds of respondents believe that women who chose to freeze their eggs without a medical reason should receive financial support for the procedure.
Of those questioned, over a third wholly supported partial public funding for non-medical egg freezing, while 23% supported coverage through private health insurance and 6% were in favour of full public funding.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr Molly Johnston of the Monash Bioethics Centre, wrote that people were becoming more sympathetic towards women who had varied reasons for wanting to freeze their eggs.
All egg freezing is done…to try and combat future childlessness.
Dr Molly Johnston
“There is a common misconception that people seek non-medical egg freezing because they’re driven and focused on their careers, but in reality, it’s not that at all,” she said.
“It’s people who want to have children but their personal circumstances are not aligning with that right now.”
Regardless of individual circumstance, at the end of the day, people all underwent egg freezing for the same reason, Johnston said. “All egg freezing is done… to try and combat future childlessness.”