Starting this month, the Health Ministry will allow women to freeze eggs in public hospitals in cases where they wish to postpone pregnancy for personal reasons.
Technological improvements have made it possible in recent years to freeze eggs for the purpose of pregnancy at a later stage, without fertilizing them with sperm prior to the freezing process.
This process was previously only available abroad to Israelis who wanted to postpone pregnancy.
However, starting this month the method will be available in public hospitals, and it is expected that the fee for the service will stand around NIS 5,900.
According to the new regulations issued earlier this week by the Chief of Medical Administration at the Health Ministry, Dr. Hezi levy, the use of the technology will be available to women aged 30 to 41, and the use of the frozen eggs for the purposes of fertilization will be permitted until the age of 54.
Each woman will be permitted to deposit 20 eggs that can be frozen. The eggs will be retrieved in no more than four procedures.
Each procedure will include hormonal treatments for three to four weeks and then the eggs are retrieved under full anesthesia.
The hospitals that will be authorized to offer these services will be able to charge a fee which has yet to be determined. However, the maximum cost will be set by the Health Ministry's price list: up to NIS 5,262 for the retrieval and freezing process and up to NIS 577 for preserving the eggs for a period of five years. At the end of the period the woman will be required to file a request to preserve the eggs for another five years, if necessary.
According to the regulations, if payments are not made to the hospital for the frozen eggs, or if no request is made to extend the five year period when it comes to an end, the hospital is then entitled to destroy the eggs 60 days after it issues a warning letter to the woman.
The legal counsel of the Health Ministry, Miriam Huebner-Harel, says that "in recent years there are stocks of fertilized eggs that have accumulated in hospitals, belonging to women and couples that made no use of them. In view of this we were forced to take an unequivocal stance which permits destruction of the eggs, following fair warning, if the woman stops payment for the preservation."
Health Ministry officials believe that hospitals will seek to sign agreements that will allow discounts through the health maintenance organizations' complementary health insurance schemes.
In cases where a genuine medical reason for the procedure exists, patients will not have to pay the full price of freezing the eggs.
Permission to provide the service will be granted to all hospitals with in vitro fertilization units, and following an official request to the Health Ministry. At the ministry they expect applications by a number of hospitals in the coming days.
Women wishing to freeze eggs will have to sign documents acknowledging that the process does not guarantee pregnancy or the birth of a child.
"While we hope for the success of the process, it is important to stress that there is no guarantee for the success of the pregnancy or the birth," Huebner-Harel said. "The freezing of eggs for the purpose of a future pregnancy is an outside option, and preference, if possible, is for the conception and birth of a child naturally or through the fertilization of eggs that have not been frozen."
The chances of a successful conception and birth with the fertilization of non-frozen eggs stand at 28-30 percent, and many hospitals report a 32-35 percent success rate.
According to Dr. Adrian Ellenbogen, who heads the IVF unit at the Hillel Yaffeh Medical Center in Hadera, "fertilization with frozen eggs is estimated to have 10 percent less chances of success."
He said that the technology used today makes it possible to fertilize more than 90 percent of the frozen eggs.