The period of time for which eggs, sperm and embryos can be frozen could be extended, as the UK government calls for views on the current 10-year limit.
It said women’s choices on when to have children were being restricted, despite advances in freezing technology.
Only the eggs of people whose fertility may be affected by disease can be kept for longer – up to 55 years.
Current law generally permits frozen eggs, sperm and embryos to be stored for a maximum of ten years, after which patients must choose either to attempt a pregnancy, destroy the frozen material, or transfer it overseas for fertility treatment abroad.
The regulator said the time was right to consider a “more appropriate” storage limit, so the government has now launched a consultation on the current law.
It will also consider the safety and quality of eggs, embryos and sperm stored for more than 10 years and any additional demand for storage facilities that could result.
“Although this could affect any one of us, I am particularly concerned by the impact of the current law on women’s reproductive choices,” said Caroline Dinenage, a minister in the Department of Health. “A time limit can often mean women are faced with the heart-breaking decision to destroy their frozen eggs or feel pressured to have a child before they are ready.”
A fertility charity has previously said women were being pushed to delay egg freezing later and later, because of the 10-year storage limit.
The number of women choosing to freeze their eggs has more than tripled in the last five years. There were 1,462 egg freezing cycles in 2017 compared with 410 in 2012, and four out of five of these women are freezing their eggs for non-medical reasons, data suggests.
A much smaller number are freezing eggs before having unrelated medical treatment, such as to combat cancer.
For women freezing their eggs, the viability of eggs is at its highest in a woman’s early twenties, therefore eggs frozen at this time will have the best chance of leading to a successful pregnancy.
However, under the current law, these frozen eggs would need to be either used or discarded in a woman’s early to mid-thirties, before she may be ready to become pregnant. The most common age for freezing eggs is now 38.
Sally Cheshire, who chairs the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said the regulator had heard the voices of patients and doctors.
“While any change to the 10-year storage limit would be a matter for Parliament, as it requires a change in law, we believe the time is right to consider what a more appropriate storage limit could be that recognises both changes in science and in the way women are considering their fertility,” she said.
The announcement of the consultation follows the launch of the #ExtendTheLimit campaign, begun by the Progress Educational Trust (PET).
The consultation is available until 5 May 2020.