The fertility and family-forming landscape in Europe has been changing rapidly over the last few years. From discussions around updates to laws related to egg freezing in the UK to innovations in fertility testing in Spain, more and more people in the region are able to find the family-forming care they need. At Carrot, we provide access to family-forming resources wherever our members are in the world. Part of that work involves keeping up to date with legal changes and scientific updates that concern family-forming care in the 60+ countries where Carrot supports members. We caught up with a few of our trusted partners in Europe to discuss some of the latest updates driving change across the region.
CRGH: Egg freezing laws in the UK
London-based Carrot partner CRGH is preparing for continued growth in egg freezing (oocyte cryopreservation) in light of proposed legislation in the UK. Egg freezing for fertility preservation was already the fastest-growing fertility service in the UK over the past decade, increasing from just under 230 cycles in 2009 to almost 2,400 cycles in 2019. But while egg freezing has become more common, existing laws in the UK have limited storage and access. UK law limits egg storage to a maximum of 10 years unless a doctor provides a medical reason to extend storage beyond that limit. This time limit dates back to legislation passed in 1990 when egg freezing had only recently been developed and researchers knew little about the long-term effects of freezing.
“People in the UK are therefore currently faced with a difficult choice,” said Jonathon Lawrence, Chief Operating Officer at CRGH. “They can either freeze in their 20s when their eggs are most viable and risk the storage limit expiring in their 30s before they are ready to start a family, or they can wait until their 30s when their eggs are less viable and have a lower chance of success.” In 2019, only 37% of egg freezing was for patients under the age of 35.
A government consultation launched in February 2020 has resulted in proposals for new legislation extending the right to store from 10 years to a maximum of 55 for sperm, eggs, and embryos. These proposals will give people the freedom to preserve their future fertility at any age. Lawrence predicted that this legislation would likely greatly expand the use of social or elective egg freezing by women under 35.
My Surrogacy Journey: New report shows growth in gestational carrier (GC) services in the UK
Carrot partner My Surrogacy Journey collaborated with Kirsty Horsey, PhD, Reader in Law at the University of Kent, and Senior Research Associate at London Women’s Clinic, to collect data on the increasing use of gestational carrier (GC) services (commonly known as surrogacy) in the UK. They analyzed parental orders in the UK, which transfer legal parenthood from the GC to intended parents after birth. Under current law in the UK, a GC — and often their spouse or partner — is considered the legal parent until a parental order is finalized.
The report’s findings include:
- GC services in the UK quadrupled in the last 10 years from just 117 parental order applications in 2011 to 413 in 2020.
- The majority of UK applicants now carry out their GC journeys in England, overtaking the U.S. for the first time in 2020-21, with England hosting almost double (145) the number of journeys than the U.S.
- Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the previous year has not seen a dip in overall surrogacy applications partly due to the ability to grant parental orders online.
- The number of same-sex couples applying for parental orders has risen from around a quarter of all applications in 2011 to over a third in 2020/21 perhaps due in part to the recognition of same-sex marriage in law from 2014.
“We knew that surrogacy was on the up in the UK and particularly in same-sex couples, but it’s fascinating to see the results of the study on paper,” said Michael Johnson-Ellis, founder of My Surrogacy Journey. “The latest data show just how important our surrogacy support services will be in the coming years.”
London Women’s Clinic: Applauding increased access to GC services
London Women’s Clinic, a Carrot partner, has been part of the growth in GC services in the UK, having worked with more than 150 GCs.
“We have seen the same pattern with surrogacy treatments taking place in our clinics,” said Horsey, who worked with My Surrogacy Journey on the report. “GC services have become increasingly socially acceptable, popular, and accessible in the UK, perhaps because of increased ease of obtaining information and changing social attitudes about alternative family structures and the use of fertility treatments, particularly the use of frozen donor eggs.”
London Women’s Clinic says that advocacy from nonprofits has helped decrease stigma around GC services. The organization hopes that increased awareness will also have an effect on GC laws in the UK.
“Those who need to use surrogacy to have children should be able to do so in the security that they are fully supported not only clinically but legally, too,” said Horsey.
IVF Spain: Researching new ways to improve fertility care
In addition to providing high-quality fertility care, Carrot partner IVF Spain has an in-house lab that specializes in research and development related to reproductive genetics. This allows their team to be able to design specific and unique therapeutic protocols for each patient. For example, the team designed a test to help determine the best day to transfer an embryo during an IVF cycle based on a small sample of the lining of the uterus. Another test detects immunological markers in the endometrium (the mucous membrane lining the uterus). Research suggests that in some cases, the body’s immune system may contribute to recurrent miscarriage. If needed, IVF Spain can recommend immunotherapy based on those results. While these tests are new, ongoing research will determine whether they can help increase live birth rates through IVF.
Sims IVF: Expanding access to fertility care in Ireland
Sims IVF is a leading fertility clinic in Ireland, providing fertility care since 1997 and helping pioneer IVF technology in Ireland.
“One of the best things about working for Sims IVF is that we listen to our patients. We gather feedback on a monthly and quarterly basis seeing how we enhance our services, how we can make impactful changes that will help our patients,” said Aoife Breslin, Group Marketing & Communications Manager at Sims IVF. “A great example of this is that we noticed there was a lack of fertility services in North Dublin and the Midlands of Ireland. We decided to move one of our clinics to North Dublin from the city center, and we opened a satellite clinic in the Midlands of the country. The feedback we have received from patients and staff alike has been amazing.”
Sims IVF hopes to expand to additional locations in the coming year.
Carrot’s partners are leaders in fertility and family forming in their regions. We’ll continue to keep in close contact with them as the fertility and family-forming landscape in Europe evolves.
Wherever you are in the world and in your family-forming journey, Carrot and our global partners are here to help. If you’re a Carrot member interested in connecting with any of our partners for support on your family-forming journey, get in touch with our team.