In a scene in the famous series, Sabea’ Gar (The Seventh Neighbour) a young single woman called Hala, 35, went to a professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, asking about the possibility of freezing her ovarian eggs in a procedure called mature oocyte cryopreservation. Hala was driven to this operation because she’s afraid that she may be unable to reproduce after a certain age, so she needs to keep her reproduction chances alive until she gets married or until she wants to use them even if she did not marry. The doctor explained to Hala that she needs to learn more about the process, and explained to her that she should marry first as these eggs would need sperm for the in vitro fertilisation (IVF), but Hala was stubborn.
Actually, it was the first time for the Egyptian drama to shed the light on this issue causing a wide social debate about it. Many discussions were generated on social media, in which some females were against the idea, while others were for it, but almost all of them were wondering about the process, which showed that many women have never heard about it.
In brief, egg freezing is a solution to preserve a woman’s fertility, so she can get pregnant in the future. It involves extracting a woman’s eggs (oocytes), freezing them, and stored as a method to preserve reproductive potential for women.
A woman’s chances of conceiving naturally decrease as she gets older because the quality and number of her eggs diminish. Egg freezing can be an attempt to preserve fertility by freezing the eggs when the woman is young and the eggs are of the highest quality.
The aforementioned debate reappeared again on social media days ago, when a single woman, called Reem Mahana, announced in a video on her Facebook account that she had frozen her eggs two years ago.
“I decided to announce publicly that I had frozen my eggs. Yes, I had frozen my eggs when I asked the doctor to make this surgery, he was shocked, telling me I have never been asked by any Egyptian woman to do this,” she said.
She conducted an abdominal ovum freezing surgery where her doctor conducted a laparoscopy to extract her eggs and freeze them. She noted that her frozen eggs would last for 20 or 30 years.
Mehanna said she froze her eggs because she wants to get married after 30 in order to build her career. She found that the best way to preserve her chance of becoming a mother was to have this operation. In addition, she is totally against the idea of getting married only to have a child.
As the debates returned again on social media, Daily News Egypt dug further into that matter, taking the opinion of several females with different backgrounds on the topic.
Daliaa Ahmed, 25, said she is with the operation as it will save for any female her chance to become a mother, noting that it’s the right of any girl to decide when to have a baby.
Alaa Ali, 40, agreed with Ahmed unless this operation is Haram (religiously forbidden), as a lot of females get married only to have a child, and this desire blind them from choosing the right partners.
Disagreeing with both, Hanaa Ahmed, 50, said she is against this operation as she prefers women to have children normally because she fears mixing of lineages.
Hind Awad, 25, opposed the operation as females who did this operation would lose their virginity, so it is Haram.
Mechanism, virginity concern
DNE explored the discussions that appeared on social media in addition to interviewing different females from different categories, discovering that there are a lot of vague points in the topic from religious and medical views.
DNE also found that actually both types of people who are against or with this operation need to learn more about it.
Hence, DNE contacted Dr Hossam Al-Shenoufy, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Cairo University, about this operation, and he explained that the process of freezing eggs needs taking some drugs for three weeks to activate the ovaries and boost egg production.
“When they’re ready, we collect the eggs as is the case in the IVF, but the difference is that we freeze the eggs,” he said. “Then when the women want to get pregnant, we thaw them and fertilise them with sperms,” he continued.
As many girls expressed their concern about losing their virginity, Al-Shenoufy stated that “the process of collecting the eggs is done through vaginal ultrasonography, so the girl will lose her virginity but the doctor gives her a medical certificate proving that she lost her virginity due to this operation.”
“But if the female does not prefer to lose her virginity, we suggest another method for collecting the eggs which is abdomen laparoscopy,” he added.
A guarantee for women to get pregnant at any age?
Al-Shenoufy explained to DNE that the process of freezing eggs started in 2012 to give female cancer patients a chance to get pregnant after completing their treatment, noting that the best solution before 2012 was the IVF or the test tube babies.
Furthermore, Al-Shenoufy added that due to the rapid social changes including the delayed marriage age in addition to the high divorce rates, females became worried about their fertility as it will be declining, but they are not ready to have a child or they haven’t found the right partner, so they began to turn to the operation of freezing eggs.
“We want to differentiate between two types of egg freezing: the first is medical, while the second is social,” he continued.
Al-Shenoufy stated that the problem is that the eggs cannot withstand the freezing process as good as the embryo.
“It is not the same with frozen eggs. Many eggs get affected during the thawing process,” Al-Shenoufy revealed.
“According to the American Society of reproductive medicine (ASRM), the chance of getting pregnant from a frozen egg is around 6%,” he further explained.
In terms of the expiry date of the frozen eggs, he said that in the United States, the eggs are frozen for up to five years, with a maximum of 10 years according to the law.
“Thus, while egg freezing for social reasons should be offered to ladies, it is important to explain to them that it does not ensure getting pregnant at an older age. On the contrary, it has a very low chance of succeeding and also for a limited time since they freeze their eggs,” Al-Shenoufy concluded.
Risks and advantages
Al-Shenoufy explained that freezing eggs has an advantage as it gives women who suffer from cancer a chance to have a child even at an older age.
On contrary, he stated that the only risk that the woman is subjected to in the process of egg freezing is hyper stimulation syndrome, which means that if her ovaries are stimulated excessively with the production of a large number of eggs, she might suffer some severe health consequences. He asserted that this is the responsibility of the fertility specialists to ensure that this does not happen.
Halal or Haram?
As there are some debates over the freezing of eggs being halal or haram in Islam, Hamed Abo Taleb, Professor at Al-Azhar University, and member in the Islamic Research Academy stated to DNE that the process of freezing eggs to benefit from them later is a modern technology that can be utilised and it serves humanity.
“Therefore, Islam does not prohibit the use of this technique, but sets standards to ensure that it does not lead to what is forbidden (Haram),” Abo Taleb continued.
Among these standards, Abo Taleb revealed, is to use these eggs for fertilisation with a husband that is legally married to the owner of the frozen egg and to use the egg in the life of the husband, which means not to mix the egg of the female with the sperm of the husband after death.
“In addition, there is the collection of these frozen eggs in government centres to guarantee that the eggs cannot be tampered with other eggs, to prevent wrong mixing for genealogy,” Abo Taleb added.
“Overall, Islam does not prohibit the use of modern technologies as long as they do not conflict and do not lead to something Haram, but if they lead to something Haram, it is not permissible,” Abo Taleb concluded.
Following the debates which appeared on social media over the topic, Egypt’s Dar Al Ifta, declared a fatwa (religious edict) over the topic stating that freezing eggs is permissible and not prohibited but should be carried under four certain regulations or standards, including that the process of the fertilisation should be carried between a married couple who are the owners of the sperms and the eggs, and that the mixing of the sperm with the egg should be done in the lives of both and during their marriage, not after divorce for example.
In addition to keeping the fertilized eggs completely and safely under strict control, which prevents the deliberate or inadvertent mixing with other saved eggs.
The fertilised eggs and sperms should be injected into the uterus of the owner of the eggs, which means that females could not donate to another female a fertilised egg already mixed with another’s eggs and sperms.
While the last standard is to ensure that the process of freezing the eggs does not have negative side effects on the embryo, such as the occurrence of birth defects, or mental repercussions later in the child’s life.