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Lack of IVF on the NHS is driving the success of egg sharing

Juliet Tizzard

Progress Educational Trust

18 May 2003

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[BioNews, London] According to news reports at the end of last week, a row has erupted over a scheme called egg sharing which is offered at a number of fertility clinics in the United Kingdom. Under the egg sharing scheme, women who need IVF are offered a free or discounted cycle of treatment in return for giving up half the eggs collected from their ovaries. The half share of eggs is then given to another woman undergoing treatment who needs donated eggs in order to conceive.

Egg sharing, which has been on offer in the UK since 1997, has always attracted controversy. The latest issue is over the opening of a new Cromwell IVF clinic in Darlington, adding to the three existing clinics in the group. According to a newspaper report, the group stands accused of exploiting poor women because the clinics outside London are in towns in which there is a significant level of poverty. Offering women treatment they would otherwise be unable to afford in return for some of their eggs is, according to many commentators, forcing less well-off women into decisions they might later regret.

It is undeniably true that a shortage of money in a situation where money is required forces people into decisions they would rather not take. Women entering egg sharing programmes would probably not otherwise donate their eggs to another woman. However, the cause of the predicament is not egg sharing itself, but the lack of IVF treatment provided on the National Health Service (NHS). In a recent survey of 726 couples who had undergone IVF treatment, 61 per cent said they had spent up to ?4000 on treatment, whilst 30 per cent had spent between ?4000 and ?20,000. In addition, each couple paid an average of ?1890 on fertility drugs (a necessary part of IVF). To finance this treatment, many couples are using up their savings or are getting into debt through family or bank loans or even re-mortgaging or selling their homes. Although we don't know how many, there must be a significant number of couples who need IVF to have a family, but are unable to proceed with treatment due to insufficient funds.

If the government decided that it was prepared to help infertile couples by providing them with the treatment they need on the NHS, the appeal of egg sharing would undoubtedly decline. Where that would leave the thousands of women who are in need of IVF and donated eggs, however, is a different matter.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 18 May 2003   Date Updated: 12 September 2004
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