The Pentagon – one of the world’s largest employers – may soon be leading the way for other companies on the issue of reproductive cell preservation.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter briefly spoke, last week, about a pilot program to freeze the sperm and eggs of active duty service members — in hopes it will convince more young troops to stay in the military during their 20’s and 30’s.
The initiative follows the December announcement that all combat positions would be open to women. The goal of this program is to give those in uniform the “peace of mind” that if they are hurt on the battlefield, they would still be able to have children, according to the NY Times.
It could also give women more flexibility to start a family later in life. With this option, female service members may put off having children in their 20’s or 30’s, whereas now after 10 years of service, they’re more likely, than their male counterparts, to leave active-duty.
The Pentagon would cover the cost for program participants who decide to have their reproductive cells preserved. It’s not cheap. The program would cost an estimated $150 million over five years, officials say.
Not many companies are doing this yet. It’s only in the last five years that it has become more widespread. Facebook has started offering to cover the cost of freezing eggs — which can be more than $10,000 — to help recruit top female candidates, the Times article said.
However, freezing eggs can be more problematic, experts say. Complications may arise and the woman may not find out until she’s say 39, that her eggs won’t work. “Freezing sperm and eggs is not like freezing chicken for dinner,” said Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.
“What happens if you die — can your wife use it? If you’re cognitively disabled, can it be used? And what happens if the company housing your sperm or eggs goes bankrupt?” Those are just some of the legal and ethical questions the Pentagon will have to answer in the future.
With longer maternity leaves, improved child care and lactation rooms at military facilities, Carter hopes to create a more family-friendly environment for troops and improve the lives of service members, in general.
The new initiative is part of a series of measures that he is pushing for to bring about a “force of the future” and also to attract millennials, who’ve indicated that a work-life balance is more important to them than it was for past generations.
A spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine told the Times that he hopes the rest of the federal government will follow the military’s lead. Sec. Carter is expected to release a memo in the coming weeks to outline the program, which will be re-evaluated after two years.
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