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SINGAPORE - Before travel curbs were placed due to Covid-19, one or two Singaporeans a month would consult Dr Helena Lim at her clinic in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, seeking to freeze their eggs.
The fertility specialist at the KL Fertility & Gynaecology Centre said: "Most of them are single and some are in stable relationships but they are not ready to tie the knot and start a family yet. These women are well aware that their fertility declines with age and they feel strongly about having their fertility preserved."
Most of these women are aged between 35 and 40 and they pay between $4,500 and $5,500 for one cycle of egg freezing at her clinic.
Women here have been going to places such as Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Australia for elective egg freezing, which is done for non-medical reasons, to preserve their fertility.
The outflow may now slow, with the Government announcing on Monday (March 28) that women aged between 21 and 35 - regardless of their marital status - will be allowed to undergo elective egg freezing from next year.
The move marks a major shift in policy, as currently women can freeze their eggs only for medical reasons, such as when they have to undergo chemotherapy, which may adversely affect their fertility.
Before undergoing the procedure, those eligible will be counselled about the various risks involved and told that it does not guarantee motherhood.
And only married couples can use their frozen eggs to try for a baby through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
Associate Professor Yong Tze Tein, head of the Obstetrics & Gynaecology department at the Singapore General Hospital, cheered the announcement, saying: "It will give women more autonomy over their choices in life. All too often, it is like it's a woman's fault if she spent time studying or pursuing a career."
However, she stressed that women must be properly informed about the procedure's risks and benefits and not be lulled into delaying motherhood.
Prof Yong said a baby girl is born with one to two million eggs, but by the time she reaches 35, only an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 eggs are left.
Egg freezing preserves fertility as the age of the eggs remains unchanged from the moment they are frozen. A woman's chances of getting pregnant fall as she ages, as the quantity and quality of her eggs decline with age.
Medical research in other countries has found that the chance of a frozen egg leading to a baby being born is about 2 per cent to 12 per cent, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling has said.
She said these studies also found that a very small proportion of women - less than 10 per cent - use their frozen eggs in the end.
Dr Lim of the KL Fertility & Gynaecology Centre said a few Singaporeans have given birth from the eggs they froze.
Most had their eggs were frozen when they were aged between 35 and 38 and gave birth using those eggs when they were around 40 years old.
"Their babies turned out fine," she said.