HFEA reports on egg, sperm and embryo donation
Dr. Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust15 October 2005
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has published the results of its sperm, egg and embryo donation (SEED) review, which included a survey of UK clinics and a review of current scientific and clinical evidence in this area. An accompanying public consultation, which closed in February 2005, sought views on issues such as limits on the number of children per donor, how donor's characteristics should be matched with patients, and how much compensation donors should be paid. The report's conclusions include the recommendation that sperm and egg donors may be compensated for loss of earnings up to a maximum of ?250 for each 'course' of sperm donation, or each cycle of egg donation. Currently, egg and sperm donors both receive ?15, plus 'reasonable expenses'. The report rejected one option set out in its consultation document, which would have allowed egg donors to be paid a maximum of ?1000. However, it did conclude that 'egg sharing' - in which women donate some of their eggs in return for subsidised or free fertility treatment - should be permitted. The review coincided with the UK government's decision to allow donor-conceived people to be given identifying information about their donor once they reach the age of 18. This law change came into effect on 1 April 2005, a move that many clinicians predicted would worsen the current shortage of egg and sperm donors in the UK. An HFEA spokesman said the SEED report recommendations were aimed at making it as easy and straightforward as possible for people to come forward and donate. Laura Witjens, chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust, told the BBC news website: 'We are glad the HFEA has listened to our arguments. The vast majority of donors, especially egg donors, are losing money'. However, she criticised the decision to link compensation to loss of earnings. 'Full-time parents who want to donate will be treated differently from those who work', she said, adding 'that's not fair'. The charity Infertility Network UK (I N UK) welcomed the recommendations, saying that they may help to increase the numbers of people donating. Sheena Young, head of Business Development for I N UK said that currently, patients are 'either facing long waiting lists, sometimes in excess of five years for egg donation', or are being denied treatment because, in some areas, 'clinics are closing their donor programmes due to massive shortages of egg and sperm donors'. The British Medical Association Ethics Committee expressed concern over the recommendation that egg-sharing should be allowed. 'We feel it places unacceptable pressure on women who cannot afford IVF treatment to donate their eggs', said chair Michael Wilks. He said that given the restricted provision of IVF treatment on the NHS, 'the offer of free or reduced price treatment, worth thousands of pounds, is a very large inducement which could affect the validity of the woman's consent'. He also expressed concern over the effect of removing donor anonymity on the practice of egg-sharing, saying 'we are worried about women for whom IVF does not work and who remain childless but who may be contacted in the future by people born following their egg donation'.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.