The UK's Department of Health is to launch a new national campaign to recruit egg and sperm donors in the country. It hopes to prevent further shortages of donors, a problem that has been exacerbated by new regulations, coming into force in April, which will remove anonymity from all future donors. The target groups are men aged 28-40 and women aged 28-35, from all social groups.
UK fertility clinics say that they have already noticed a decline in the numbers of people coming forward to donate gametes, since the announcement, made last January, that the rules on anonymity were to be changed. The changes mean that anyone born from donations made after 5 April will be able to ask for identifying information about the donor, when they reach the age of 18. Some fertility experts predict that the decline in the number of donations will lead to infertile couples going abroad for treatment. Dr Allan Pacey, of the British Fertility Society (BFS), said that such 'fertility tourism' would lead to further inequalities between those who could afford treatment abroad, and those who couldn't. 'People will choose with their feet', he said, adding 'but it will be the rich people choosing with their feet and I think that is a terrible inequity'.
The new campaign, developed in conjunction with the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT), hopes to raise public awareness about the benefits of egg and sperm donation. Traditionally, sperm donors have tended to be students, who could be easily targeted through 'football programmes, magazines and student unions', and who received about £15 compensation for each donation. It is expected that future sperm donors are likely to be older men, who already have their family and who are motivated purely by altruism. The NGDT also hopes to raise the profile of egg donation, to encourage more women to come forward to donate their eggs.
Laura Spoelstra, chair of the NGDT, said 'there is a possibility that if we don't do something about it we are going to see the number of donations dry up'. She hopes that the campaign, which will include posters and leaflets, will remove the stigma attached to sperm donation in particular. It 'can be seen as seedy, involving porn magazines and a plastic cup', she said. Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson said 'we need to change people's perceptions about sperm and egg donation and dispel some of the myths about it'. She said this included the myth that a donor could become financially liable for their offspring later in life.
Last November, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) launched a public consultation on sperm, egg and embryo donation. It is seeking views on issues such as whether there should be 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. One proposal is that compensation for egg donors should be raised to £1000, in recognition of the more invasive nature of the donation processs, and to encourage more women to donate. The consultation takes the form of an online questionnaire, available via the HFEA's website (www.hfea.gov.uk), and is open until 4 February 2005.