Thousands of married couples seeking IVF treatment will be allowed to preserve their embryos under a new draft law passed on Tuesday.
Legislation agreed by the Federal National Council paved the way for husbands and wives to freeze their embryos for at least five years.
Demand for IVF treatment has been growing steadily in the UAE and one clinic alone now helps around 10,000 couples from the Mena region each year.
Fertility experts welcomed the new ruling - which requires approval by President Sheikh Khalifa - claiming the change would save patients both time and money in what is often an expensive and tiring process.
“We have been lobbying for this [regulation] for a year,” said Majd Abu Zant, chief executive of HealthPlus, which provides IVF treatment in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
“We help more than 10,000 husbands and wives each year who seek our services from all over the UAE and surrounding countries like Oman, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.”
IVF treatment is a multi-step process and involves egg retrieval, fertilisation and the transferal of embryos into the womb.
Allowing the freezing of embryos means couples, who have already been through the treatment once, are less likely to have to complete the initial stages again.
Last year, HealthPlus helped couples through more than 3,600 IVF cycles in Abu Dhabi and expect the figure to increase again in 2019.
“Using frozen embryos happens at a significantly lower cost than having a fresh cycle, because you bypass a big portion of the procedure without compromising the result,” said Mr Abu Zant.
The cost of IVF treatment in the UAE ranges from between Dh35,000 to Dh70,000, depending on the complexity of the case.
Under existing legislation, UAE nationals are entitled to three free cycles of IVF per year, while insurance packages for non-Emiratis rarely cover the treatment.
“We are not addressing this issue right now,” said Abdulrahman Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention.
“We are already covering UAE nationals who seek the service.”
On Tuesday, FNC members confirmed that the new legislation was compliant with Sharia law and that it had been reviewed and approved by religious authorities.
“The [freezing of embryos] has [already] been implemented in Saudi Arabia for a long time,” FNC speaker Dr Amal Al Qubaisi observed.