Author-Soh Yi Fei Titus

As Singapore modernizes from a third world country to a first world country, Western Liberal Values are gradually imported over to The Little Red Dot. Though the country is still conservative, the World has noted the gradual change in embracing liberal values. This has been evident from LGBT activism[1] to higher acceptance of divorce and euthanasia[2]. The advent of growing Western Liberal Values in Singapore has brought about a controversy pertaining to fertility preservation: social egg freezing. In Singapore, freezing of one’s eggs is only permitted if the woman’s fertility is adversely affected due to medical reasons. For example, a lady might be going through chemotherapy if she is diagnosed with cancer[3]. Without a medical reason, women are not allowed to freeze their eggs. However, with Singapore’s fast paced growing economy and ever increasing cost of living, more women are struggling to marry and have children at a young age. Why is this so? With more young adults struggling to make ends meet, it is tough for them to find an appropriate significant other for themselves. Furthermore, having a child is an additional financial burden to a young couple, who may already be grappling with paying off their own housing. A modernizing Singapore with more women in the workforce also forces women to make a choice of sacrifice between their child and career.[4] As a result, a couple might only try having a child in their early to late thirties. However, there is a biological barrier to this as women aging affects fertility and increases the probability of complications or abnormalities[5]. With legal barriers in Singapore, many women leave the country to have their eggs frozen instead. Though this is a possible measure to be taken by an individual, it does not resolve the deep rooted institutionalised problem of having the legal ban. The legality of social egg freezing cannot be divorced from socio-economic conditions that may warrant the necessity of egg freezing. Furthermore, legalising social egg freezing may very well be instrumental in tackling Singapore’s declining birth rate. As such, for this essay, I will be addressing the concerns about egg freezing as well as whether the legality of it is warranted.

Before I begin to elaborate on the concerns of social egg freezing, perhaps it would be important to ask ourselves the purpose of the law. We study it, we practice it, we are governed by it but what purpose does it aim to achieve? I believe that the law has a large diversity of purposes to fulfil; from contract law to criminal law but they are all ultimately shaped by four guiding principles: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.[6] If a law is unable to fulfil any of these four principles, or worse, contradicts any of these principles, is it a law still necessitated by society or is it simply a legal instrument to oppress?

The first reason for the ban is due to social reasons. Singapore is afraid that legalising social egg freezing will result in a delay of parenthood. This argument posits birth rates to be solely a biological issue, unaffected by social and economic factors. However, this isn’t the case as I had postulated in the introduction. Research through surveys have shown data claiming that parenthood is usually first and foremost grounded by whether one is able to get a romantic partner that suits them and whether they are able to achieve financial stability[7]. Even with the ban in place, the median age of first-time mothers in Singapore rose from 29.7 years in 2009 to 30.6 years in 2018[8]. This coupled with the declining birth rate in Singapore seems to suggest the legal ban of social egg freezing may actually be counter intuitive.  It should also be established that trying to force young couples to have children at an age where they are not financially stable may result in more social problems such as higher divorce rates and poverty. As such, the laws trying to incentivise reproduction should pertain more to economic support rather than limiting options to procreation. Not just does the legal ban lack a purpose, it contradicts the purpose of a law: to protect one’s liberties and rights. Feminist movements have claim that this law reduces women autonomy over their own body and restricts women’s rights over their own reproduction. While women have an age limit to reproduce due to biological reasons, men are still capable of reproduction even at an advanced age. With biological, social and economic reasons, the legal ban on social egg freezing denies many the opportunity  and the right to become a parent.  Recalling the four principles of the purpose behind a law, the intent of the legal ban may be to establish a social standard to ensure reproduction but seeing that the ban is ineffective and may even be hindering its initial cause, the legality of the ban should come into question. It is not just counterproductive but it contradicts the legality of human rights; specifically bodily integrity and European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life.) Both bodily integrity and Article 8 of ECHR states about reproductive rights, autonomy over one’s body and self ownership. In the case of P. and S. v. Poland, The Court had decided that parenthood pertaining to private life applies to both the decision of being a parent and not wanting to be a parent.[9] Furthermore, ECHR has stated that the right for parents to use medically assisted procreation methods is protected by Article 8[10]. Does social egg freezing not facilitate procreation? We cannot deny that it is instrumental for procreation, albeit it may cause delay to an individual’s parenthood, and as such should still be protected by Public Law set out by ECHR Article 8. The legal ban on social egg freezing is thus a contradiction to Public Law.

Another reason advocates support the ban is due to medicolegal reasons. Women may be unaware that the chances of conception from a frozen egg can be as low as 4.5% to 12%.[11] Furthermore, advocates of the ban have cited risk of complications with regards to egg freezing to both women and the potential child. The simple solution to information asymmetry should be to mandate healthcare workers to provide comprehensive material and information about the procedure, risks and medical complications rather than removing the procedure as an option completely. Counselling to inform women about the financial and medical risk of such procedures can also be provided. Advocates citing medicolegal reasons to support the ban are not coherent with other legal approaches adopted by the government on issues such as abortion under the Termination of Pregnancy Act, Chapter 324 of the Singaproe Penal Code[12], and voluntary sterilization under the Voluntary Sterilization Act, Chapter 347 of the Singapore Penal Code[13]. The complications of the procedure shouldn’t be a reason for the implementation of the law as all medical procedures, regardless of whether they are elective or not, have their own potential risk (i.e. facial surgery and abortion). The ethics of freezing one’s egg also cannot be compared to something as controversial as abortion, which is also legal in Singapore. As such the only underlying problem with this concern is information asymmetry which is easily resolved through the above mentioned measures. Once again, to recall the four principles underlying the purpose of the law once again, the legal ban is unable to fulfil a purpose and is inconsistent with other government laws pertaining to public health.

From my above arguments, I have elaborated on how the legal ban on social egg freezing is not just self-defeating, purposeless and a violation of human rights but it is also a misfeasance. It should also be noted that the stronger stakeholders fueling this legal ban is The National Council of Churches of Singapore. Considering that the percentage of Singapore citizens is approximately 19-20%[14], is it ethical to enforce secular law in Singapore for religious reasons, much less in accordance to Christianity beliefs?  Such usage of the law is corruptive and an instrument for oppression. In conclusion, such archaic law preserved for traditional and conservative reasons despite its lack of purpose and social harm should be abolished in Singapore. A society will be kept in a state of stasis and will eventually regress if we are unable to progress past conservativeness and amend our laws according to that progressiveness and change in societal values.

Bibliography & Citations

  1. Han, K., 2021. Youth Activists Are Pushing the Limits of Singapore’s Politics. [online] Worldpoliticsreview.com. Available at: <https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/29874/youth-activists-are-pushing-the-limits-of-singapore-politics> [Accessed 16 August 2021].
  2. ONG, J., 2021. Values poll: S’pore more liberal but still largely conservative. [online] The Straits Times. Available at: <https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/community/values-poll-spore-more-liberal-but-still-largely-conservative> [Accessed 16 August 2021].
  3. MENON, M., 2021. Dilemma of social egg freezing for women in Singapore. [online] The Straits Times. Available at: <https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/dilemma-of-social-egg-freezing-for-women-in-singapore-0> [Accessed 16 August 2021].
  4. Sanchez-Kumar, N., 2021. The Real Reason Why the Baby Bonus Won’t Work. [online] ValueChampion Singapore. Available at: <https://www.valuechampion.sg/the-real-reason-why-the-baby-bonus-wont-work> [Accessed 16 August 2021].
  5. Acog.org. 2021. Having a Baby After Age 35: How Aging Affects Fertility and Pregnancy. [online] Available at: <https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/having-a-baby-after-age-35-how-aging-affects-fertility-and-pregnancy#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20eggs%20decreases,as%20uterine%20fibroids%20and%20endometriosis.> [Accessed 16 August 2021].
  6. Courses.lumenlearning.com. 2021. The Meaning and Purposes of Law | Introduction to Business [Deprecated]. [online] Available at: <https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wmopen-introbusiness/chapter/meaning-and-purposes-of-the-law/> [Accessed 16 August 2021].
  7.  Conger, R., Conger, K. and Martin, M., 2010. Socioeconomic Status, Family Processes,and Individual Development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), pp.685-704.
  8.  Strategygroup.gov.sg. 2021. Marriage and Parenthood Trends in SG. [online] Available at: <https://www.strategygroup.gov.sg/images/Press%20Release%20images/PDFs/marriage-and-parenthood-trends-in-singapore.pdf> [Accessed 16 August 2021].
  9. Hudoc.echr.coe.int. 2021. P. and S. v. Poland HUDOC 30 Oct 2010. [online] Available at: <http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-114098> [Accessed 16 August 2021].
  10.  Hudoc.echr.coe.int. 2021. Case of S.H. and Others v. Austria. [online] Available at: <http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-107325> [Accessed 16 August 2021].
  11.  Afifah Darke 25 Mar, 2019 CNA. 2021. ‘Doing it for myself’: The women freezing their eggs to raise their chances of conceiving. [online] Available at: <https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/social-egg-freezing-singapore-women-ivf-1396416> [Accessed 16 August 2021].
  12. Singapore Attorney General Chamber 1st July 2007 <https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/TPA1974> [Accessed 16 August 2021]
  13. Singapore Attorney General Chamber 1st July 2007 <https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/TPA1974> [Accessed 16 August 2021]
  14. Department of Statistics Singapore, 2015 <http://www.singstat.gov.sg/publications/publications-and-papers/GHS/ghs2015content> [Accessed 16 August 2021]

[1] Han, K., 2021. Youth Activists Are Pushing the Limits of Singapore’s Politics. [online] Worldpoliticsreview.com. Available at: <https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/29874/youth-activists-are-pushing-the-limits-of-singapore-politics> [Accessed 16 August 2021].

[2] ONG, J., 2021. Values poll: S’pore more liberal but still largely conservative. [online] The Straits Times. Available at: <https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/community/values-poll-spore-more-liberal-but-still-largely-conservative> [Accessed 16 August 2021].

[3]MENON, M., 2021. Dilemma of social egg freezing for women in Singapore. [online] The Straits Times. Available at: <https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/dilemma-of-social-egg-freezing-for-women-in-singapore-0> [Accessed 16 August 2021].

[4]Sanchez-Kumar, N., 2021. The Real Reason Why the Baby Bonus Won’t Work. [online] ValueChampion Singapore. Available at: <https://www.valuechampion.sg/the-real-reason-why-the-baby-bonus-wont-work> [Accessed 16 August 2021].

[5] Acog.org. 2021. Having a Baby After Age 35: How Aging Affects Fertility and Pregnancy. [online] Available at: <https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/having-a-baby-after-age-35-how-aging-affects-fertility-and-pregnancy#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20eggs%20decreases,as%20uterine%20fibroids%20and%20endometriosis.> [Accessed 16 August 2021].

[6]Courses.lumenlearning.com. 2021. The Meaning and Purposes of Law | Introduction to Business [Deprecated]. [online] Available at: <https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wmopen-introbusiness/chapter/meaning-and-purposes-of-the-law/> [Accessed 16 August 2021].

[7] Conger, R., Conger, K. and Martin, M., 2010. Socioeconomic Status, Family Processes,and Individual Development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), pp.685-704.

[8] Strategygroup.gov.sg. 2021. Marriage and Parenthood Trends in SG. [online] Available at: <https://www.strategygroup.gov.sg/images/Press%20Release%20images/PDFs/marriage-and-parenthood-trends-in-singapore.pdf> [Accessed 16 August 2021].

[9]Hudoc.echr.coe.int. 2021. P. and S. v. Poland HUDOC 30 Oct 2010. [online] Available at: <http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-114098> [Accessed 16 August 2021].

[10] Hudoc.echr.coe.int. 2021. Case of S.H. and Others v. Austria. [online] Available at: <http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-107325> [Accessed 16 August 2021].

[11] Afifah Darke 25 Mar, 2019 CNA. 2021. ‘Doing it for myself’: The women freezing their eggs to raise their chances of conceiving. [online] Available at: <https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/social-egg-freezing-singapore-women-ivf-1396416> [Accessed 16 August 2021].

[12]Singapore Attorney General Chamber 1st July 2007

https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/TPA1974

[13] Singapore Attorney General Chamber 1st July 2007

https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/TPA1974

[14]Department of Statistics Singapore, 2015

http://www.singstat.gov.sg/publications/publications-and-papers/GHS/ghs2015content
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