Elective Egg Freezing (Part 1): Mum’s the Word on Children’s Rights


The Cost to The Kids

Article 3(1) of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child provides:

“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

Does EEF feature the interests of children as a primary consideration?

Here’s a hypothetical where EEF might enable a late pregnancy which creates a chain of unfortunate realities down the line.

On the slim chance that a child is born to a woman who is 45 years old, their parents will be pushing 50 by the time they are kindergarteners. It would be reasonable to expect that a half centenarian would have difficulty keeping up with the interaction and development needs of a child. At 25, when many launch into their careers, and are beginning to settle down to establish their own households, they will also be required to care for 70-year-old parents who may, by this point, be dealing with several health issues. And by 32 with two children in tow, mom and dad would be close to 80, eliminating many of their best years of inter-generational contributions as grandparents.

While one might accept that women may not always have children at a time that coincides with peak fertility, it would be worth asking if EEF enables the possibility for children to be deprived of the best years of their parent’s lives. And while this has no bearing on the legitimacy and value of wide age-gapped family structures, nor the depth of their relationships, it is nevertheless not optimal. Just as we would caution an unwed woman from having a child too early for not being able to care for the child adequately, so too should we take pause and tread carefully when artificially facilitating later conceptions for the same reasons.

One wonders whether the interests of children – the very purpose of pregnancies – have been factored into policy deliberation at all. Read any reportage on EEF for instance, and one would be hard-pressed to find much consideration of the interests of children intentionally and artificially born to older parents. Again, this is to say nothing of the unquestionable worth of each life, nor the love those parents afford their children. Rather, it questions whether a permissible thing like preserved fertility is automatically beneficial.

The Triumph of Choice as a Virtue

Perhaps the framing of the issue with new language — “Social Elective Egg Freezing”, is the first of several indications that the policy shift finds its footing on the ideological foundation of choice.

Interest groups have argued in favour of EEF from different angles around the theme of choice as well.

Activists attempt to make their stand on “reproductive rights”. Though one wonders if anyone can be said to have an actual right to delay childbirth by artificially prolonging their fertility beyond natural biological limits.

Do women have the right to bear children at any age? To be fair, yes, they do. But should a woman bear children at any age? Now that is a different story.

A response to activists’ arguments around Social Egg Freezing, back when it was still called “social egg freezing”. We thought this was a rather good way to address some of AWARE’s claims around the issue.

Sociologists suggest that EEF empowers women’s upward mobility by buying them time for their choices and priorities, whether financial, career-related or educational aspirations.

When the Women’s and Youth Wing of the People’s Action Party (PAP) put up its recommendation in 2021 to allow “elective egg freezing,” it attempted to buttress its case by citing Singapore’s declining total fertility rate as presenting an “urgent need” for EEF. However, it also noted that they saw “Singaporean women today opting to pursue their career aspirations and wanting to delay marriage and childbirth.” It called for a mindset shift from the concern that “allowing women to freeze their eggs encourages them to delay finding a partner and having a child.”

Again, this prioritises adults’ choices instead of children’s needs. But perhaps more to the point, regardless of how one calls for “mindset shifts” or the defocusing of delayed marriage and childbearing, the challenge remains: When an option to defer childbearing is provided as a matter of policy, it is a virtual certainty that childbearing will be delayed. More on this in part 2 of this article.

Drawing the question of policy motivations to a close, it was Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo who told reporters the move to allow elective egg freezing is not about raising the total fertility rate, but “empowering women with choice”.

Indeed, narratives from the vantage point of women’s empowerment, rights, autonomy, and choice abound. But is freedom always found in more choice?

While having more choice for women is rarely questioned, one wonders if this is a net asset or liability in the final analysis. Does this not misprioritise policy goals by putting adult empowerment at the expense of a child’s rights?

In an age that majors on celebrating autonomy and the freedom to choose, it is little wonder that society’s values are increasingly ordered toward the wants of adults rather than the rights, or minimally, the interests of children. Yet surely, social policy cannot stand on the leg of adult-centric empowerment while ignoring the other leg of what is in the interest of the young.

Perhaps this is precisely why the National Council of Churches, Singapore (NCCS), which released a statement on Social Egg Freezing in 2019, was “unable to support the legalisation of social egg freezing because of the serious ethical and social issues it raises”. It said, “The fundamental problem with social egg freezing is that this technology is used for non-medical reasons. The technology is not used to treat a particular pathology or to prevent an illness, but rather to facilitate and consequently promote a lifestyle option or preference.”

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