• Kyodo, Staff Report

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A city in Chiba Prefecture plans to help young women freeze their eggs in the largest publicly funded project of its kind and one of the first aimed at healthy women rather than those facing sterility from chemotherapy.

The Urayasu Municipal Government will cooperate with Juntendo University Urayasu Hospital to extract eggs and freeze them to help address the nation’s declining birth rate.

The two organizations will formally announce the initiative on Thursday, sources said Friday.

In March, the hospital’s ethics committee approved freezing eggs from four women who are the first to take part.

Explorative work began last July to determine how such a program might work, and whether a publicly funded campaign might help address Japan’s low birthrate.

It is rare for a government body to subsidize the freezing of women’s eggs. Urayasu is budgeting ¥90 million over the three years to March 2018 to help potential mothers preserve eggs for future use.

The subsidies are available to female residents of the city aged 20 to 34, and the frozen eggs are intended to be used by the time they are 45.

A woman would typically pay ¥500,000 to ¥600,000 to have her eggs removed, frozen and preserved. The city will subsidize most of that sum, leaving women to cover about ¥100,000 of the total, a sum that includes the costs of injections and medication.

Since last July, the hospital has been conducting monthly sessions for potential mothers to explain what is involved. More than 40 women have attended the meetings.

Participants cite the fear that they will find themselves unable to conceive after spending years focused on their careers.

“I have been prioritizing my work until now. But I want to prepare myself if I won’t be able to become pregnant,” said one woman in her 30s.

Meanwhile, the women are not just those with age-related worries. Women with potential infertility-causing diseases of the uterus, including endometriosis, have also attended.

“People who are concerned about their health are worried about whether they can become pregnant. I came here because my older sister has suffered from infertility,” said a woman at one session. “I want the government to create an environment where I will be able to give birth to a baby.”

Egg freezing began as a way to help women at risk of permanent sterility for reasons such as cancer treatment. It has since been seen as a way for all women to preserve ova at a young age, when they are typically healthy and at peak fertility.

The Urayasu program is seen as an aggressive approach to population decline, but Japan already has public subsidy programs for fertility treatment.

The central government offers ¥300,000 for the first treatment and ¥150,000 for subsequent rounds, up to a maximum of six sessions. Women are eligible to apply up to the age of 42.

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