As China embraces female emancipation, more women appear to be expressing interest in postponing pregnancy by having their eggs frozen as they pursue careers and enjoy the independence of youth.
However, by law such services are only available to couples with fertility problems.
More than 260 couples had unfertilized eggs frozen through a process called cryopreservation last year at the Shanghai-based International Peace Women and Children Hospital.
The Xinmin Evening News reported that the number represented a notable rise from the previous year, though it did not provide earlier figures.
An even larger number of people have been contacting fertility specialists to ask if they can have the procedure done, doctors from the hospital said.
"I just got on the right track for my career, and I don't want pregnancy to ruin my years of hard work. I just want to make sure my baby is born after I have been promoted," said He Sha, a 28-year-old employee of a trade association.
He said she did not want to have to balance the responsibilities of a career and a family.
Chen Xiaohong, dean of the Reproductive and Genetic Center in No 1 Hospital affiliated to Peking University, said an egg, which typically dies within 10 hours after being removed from the womb, can be preserved for at least a decade after being submerged in liquid nitrogen cooled to -196 C.
Ninety-six percent of the cryopreserved eggs survive after 10 years.
However, the advanced technology behind the process is not available to everyone. Experts said only couples who suffer from fertility problems can avail themselves of the service.
Wang Xinfeng, an expert in artificial reproductive techniques at a hospital in Guangzhou, said most of the frozen eggs at his hospital were leftovers from other fertility treatments.
"They will never be offered to other people, just the couples from whom they were obtained," Wang said.
Experts have called for the creation of an egg bank to help women with fertility problems. "But ethics issues should be taken into consideration, and rigid regulations should be set up before such a bank is established," said Wang.
Wang added that even if an egg bank were established, the day when healthy women would be allowed to freeze eggs by choice was still a long way off.
To date, about 150 children have been born using eggs that had been frozen, according to reports in Chinese language newspapers.
There are 10 authorized sperm banks in China, according to the latest list from the Ministry of Health.
(China Daily February 7, 2007)