Earlier this week, the technology giants Facebook and Apple revealed that they are offering to cover the costs for female employees to freeze their eggs for later use. Although some have hailed the news as an example of progressive, flexible employment, others have been more critical.
NBC News broke the story on Tuesday that Facebook recently began offering the egg-freezing service and that Apple’s equivalent will begin in January. The Silicon Valley firms are reportedly the first employers to offer egg freezing for non-medical reasons.
The logic behind the egg-freezing coverage is that it will enable young, female employees to develop their careers first without compromising their fertility.
Women are under-represented at both companies, with Facebook and Apple having 69% and 70% male workforces, respectively.
Both companies are offering to pay up to $20,000 toward the costs of the expensive procedure and egg storage, which has been interpreted as a competitive move to entice top female employees to the firms.
NBC quoted an egg-freezing advocate, Brigitte Adams, of the patient forum Eggsurance, who suggested that by offering this perk, the companies are investing in women and supporting them to carve out the lives they want. “Having a high-powered career and children is still a very hard thing to do,” Adams said.
A statement from Apple on the program read: “We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.”
However, others have been more cynical. Jessica Cussins, project associate at the Center for Genetics and Society (CGS) responded yesterday in an article for The Huffington Post: “Surely what they meant to say was, ‘We want women at Apple to spend more of their lives working for us without a family to distract them.'”
Egg freezing, Cussins argues, is not “a magic wand that will allow you to raise a family at your own pace, away from the pressures of your workplace and biological clock.”
In a separate news release, the CGS lambasts the workplace benefit of egg freezing as “ill-advised for numerous reasons,” citing the “significant but understudied risks” of egg retrieval for women and the absence of evidence about potential long-term health risks to children born as a result of this process.
Marcy Darnovsky, PhD, executive director of the non-profit advocacy group, says:
“Getting your eggs frozen is neither a simple nor a safe procedure. Retrieving multiple eggs involves injections of powerful hormones, some of them used off-label and never approved for egg extraction. The short-term risks range from mild to very severe, and the long-term risks are uncertain because they haven’t been adequately studied – even though the fertility industry has been using these hormones for decades.”
The CGS statement further describes how the hormonal drugs used to hyperstimulate ovary production can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).
While mild cases of this syndrome feature symptoms such as nausea, bloating and discomfort, serious cases can require hospitalization for intra-abdominal bleeding, ovarian torsion and severe pain. Though rare, deaths have been reported as a result of OHSS.
Egg freezing also requires women to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF), a procedure with a high failure rate that is linked to risks of stillbirths, cesarean sections, preterm deliveries, multiple gestations and higher risks of fetal anomalies.
“Why are Facebook and Apple endorsing a technique that encourages their employees to put their health at risk?,” Darnovsky asks. “Paying for egg freezing is being presented as a benefit for women, but it may be that discouraging women from balancing work and family is really a benefit to the companies.”
In addition, both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have issued guidelines discouraging women from undergoing egg freezing for non-medical reasons.