April 04, 2017 08:40
Alarming numbers of single Korean women choose to freeze their eggs in case they decide to have children later in life.
The Cha Medical Center, which has the biggest egg bank, said the number of applicants soared from less than 100 in 2011 to 1,786 last year. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 4,586 sets of eggs were stored at 26 medical facilities in Korea as of last September.
Proponents argue that freezing eggs can help reduce infertility, but skeptics fear it could promote illegal sales of eggs. The trend is primarily due to women marrying later in life and huge advances in the technology. Female egg cells are vulnerable to aging and fertility rates plummet when women reach 34 to 37 years of age.
But as more and more women join the workforce, a growing number are marrying and trying to have children later in their lives.
Kim Mi-ran (35), a single lawyer, had her eggs frozen late last year. She felt she is unlikely to get married any time soon but wants to be prepared for the possibility of becoming infertile.
The clinic collected 15 ova and froze them at a temperature of minus 210 degrees. The procedure cost W2.5 million plus another W300,000 a year for storage (US$1=W1,119).
The procedure was introduced here in the mid-1990s and was usually favored by cancer patients who were about to undergo intensive chemotherapy. But nowadays most women simply want to store their healthy ova for the future.
Kim Ja-yeon at CMC said, "The success rate of pregnancy involving frozen eggs is almost as high as for in-vitro fertilization now. The technology has evolved to a point where doctors can confidently recommend the procedure to patients."
But critics say dangerous loopholes exist. For instance, there is no legal time limit on the storage period, and insufficient safeguards against women selling their eggs for medical research. The problem made headlines in the downfall of cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk, who bought thousands of eggs for his dubious research.
Chung Hyung-min at Konkuk University Medical Center said, "Freezing eggs plays a positive role in treating infertility, but we need to watch out for illicit sales."
It is illegal to buy and sell ova, but as more and more women freeze their eggs the chances of such illicit deals are increasing. "The government urgently needs to look into possible abuses of the law in this field and come up with guidelines," said Kim Kye-seong at Hanyang University Medical School.
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