Undercutting national objectives with self-defeating policy?
In the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development, the Government proposed to allow all women aged 21 to 35 years, regardless of their marital status, to choose to freeze their eggs. It did so because it recognised that “some women desire to preserve fertility because of their personal circumstances”, for example, those who are not able to find a partner while they are younger but wish to have the chance of conceiving if they marry later.
At the same time, it explained that this is in line with its policy to encourage Singaporeans to marry and have children “as early as possible”, to “increase the chances of conceiving naturally and reduce the chance of age-related problems”.
This is helpful for those approaching the ages of significant oocyte quality decline. On the other hand, if the prevailing objectives are to encourage young families, the policy is overly broad, lacks a clear purpose and is arguably counterproductive to the nation’s needs.
Overly-broad policy leading to unintended cultural shifts
If young families are encouraged, then why does the permissible age range for egg-freezing include adults between 21-27? It seems obvious enough that there is no pressing need for EEF to be extended to this group who still have ample time to marry and settle down.
Legalisation enables access. Providing a demographic that doesn’t need EEF with a solution to a problem they don’t yet have, is redundant, and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy by removing the imperative of settling down and starting a family.
Allowing for EEF will likely cause a cultural shift for young women and couples who will increasingly come to believe that ARTs can be used as a lifestyle choice to delay childbearing, even where there is no medical infertility. The policy effectively enables those who can afford it, to pursue careers and education at the expense of family. Those who cannot afford it are priced out of this privilege.
Establishing these consequences as new social norms isn’t a good thing.
Poorly defined policy undercutting its own objectives
A core reason offered by the government for allowing EEF is the recognition of exceptional circumstances. For instance, the fact that some women wish to preserve their fertility because they have not yet found a partner. Alas, there are no safeguards to ensure that the personal circumstances are compelling or even consistent with the case studies offered by the government. Without safeguards which focus the policy on the specific challenges, practically any woman can choose to freeze their eggs for any reason whatsoever, contradicting the Government’s position of supporting and encouraging Singaporeans to pursue their marriage and parenthood aspirations early.
There is also no stated age limit for when the egg can be used. In theory, a woman could get married to a man in her 50s or even 60s, and use ART to get the egg fertilised as long as she is still able to bear the child. Yet again, we see how this contradicts the Government’s position of encouraging young families, and to inter alia decrease the chance of age-related problems. More importantly, it will increase the probability of children having aged parents, which is unlikely to be in their best interests and welfare.
People in their 20s should be the ones to think critically about this policy by re-examining the core of motherhood and the purposive value of the biological clock, rather than to chase the idyllic Singaporean dream, only to find that it was unnecessary, or worse, hollow.