The UK's first 'human egg bank' is set to open this week, according to an article published in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. It is said that the bank will store and offer for sale 'more than 1500 frozen eggs', which 'infertile couples can buy for their hereditary characteristics such as their eye and hair colour and height', enabling them to create 'made-to-order' babies'. It is illegal for clinics to sell eggs, sperm or embryos in the UK, but patients can pay for private fertility treatment using donated materials.
The new egg bank has been created, says the paper, by Mohammed Taranissi, director of the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London. He has built up the store of eggs over five years, using donations from women attending his clinic for fertility treatments. Twenty-two clinics in the UK are licensed to freeze eggs in the UK, but donated eggs are scarce. Some clinics offer 'egg-sharing' schemes, where a woman who needs fertility treatment receives it at a reduced price in return for donating some of her eggs to another woman or couple. But egg-sharing usually involves the synchronisation of the two women's cycles and the use of fresh, rather than frozen, eggs. The main reason that egg freezing is used is for women about to undergo a medical procedure that might affect their fertility. It was only in 2001 that the first birth using a frozen-thawed human egg was achieved.
The egg bank has already received a lot of criticism. The UK's General Medical Council (GMC) said that not enough was known about the procedure, or about human development, to be assured that 'a potential health time bomb was not being produced'. Professor Lord Robert Winston, a fertility expert, said that the project 'stinks', adding that it 'is generally dangerous. There is no evidence that egg freezing is safe'. However, Dr Gill Lockwood, director of a Midlands fertility clinic and chairman of the British Fertility Society's ethics committee, said that she is 'happy with the concept of egg freezing'. But, she added, 'the success rate with fresh eggs is significantly greater than with frozen and I would be unhappy to reduce the chance of success using this precious resource by freezing eggs'.
Taranissi claims that couples who opt to use eggs from the egg bank will have almost a 50 per cent chance of conceiving each time they undergo treatment. 'There is a misconception that egg freezing doesn't work', he said, adding 'I disagree. If you freeze good quality eggs, you can do very well with them'.