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HFEA calls for debate around payment for sperm and egg donation

27 July 2009
Appeared in BioNews 518

A public debate is urgently needed to decide whether people should be paid for donating eggs and sperm to infertile couples, according to Professor Lisa Jardine, Chair of the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). In an exclusive interview with the Times newspaper, Professor Jardine said that the lack of egg and sperm donors in this country was driving couples abroad for fertility treatment in often unregulated clinics, and that the HFEA could potentially consider a reversal of the ban on payment for donors 'to try to keep assisted reproduction within our regulated area... out of concern for patient welfare'.

In 2006, the HFEA published a directive stipulating that sperm and egg donors should not receive payment beyond reimbursement for out of pocket expenses and up to £250 for loss of earnings. Women are also sometimes eligible for money off IVF treatment though egg-sharing schemes, whereby one couple donates eggs or embryos in return for a free or cut-price IVF cycle. However, considering the often lengthy process of donating sperm or eggs, and in the case of the latter the invasive nature of medical procedures, some critics feel that this amount doesn't adequately reflect the time commitment and risks involved.

Professor Jardine agrees that more should be done to reimburse egg donors for the health risks involved. 'Egg donation is considerably more invasive than sperm donation, so I don't see why there should be parity. Women have to have hormonal treatment and procedures to extract the eggs. My feeling would be egg donation would be a more serious matter,' she said.

Others worry that actively paying individuals for egg and sperm donations could lead to exploitation, with poorer members of society feeling pressured to donate in order to repay debts or put food on the table. However, Professor Jardine believes many are already travelling abroad to take advantage of more lucrative gamete donation schemes and that permitting the practice in the UK would allow a more transparent system of donation to be adopted.

'When [infertile couples] go abroad, there is undoubtedly exploitation. Although is it exploitation if you can't feed your family? We're very ready to say it's exploitation, but if you discover you can make a year's food money … I'd rather we had control over it here,' she said.

Professor Jardine also commented on whether sperm or egg donation should be permitted among family members, for example a father donating sperm on behalf of his son, or a brother's sperm being used to fertilise a donated egg to be implanted in his sister.

'These are generous gestures, but we need to do some serious thinking about the social and psychological consequences,' Professor Jardine said. 'We know that when a child discovers she's not her sister's sister, but her sister's daughter, it can cause absolute crisis. This isn't a trivial matter.'

Fertility donor pay debate call
BBC News Online |  27 July 2009
IVF chief seeks debate on paying egg and sperm donors
The Times |  27 July 2009
Pay donors to end IVF egg shortage, says fertility watchdog
The Daily Mail |  27 July 2009
Review ban on paying IVF donors to end shortage of eggs, watchdog says
The Guardian |  27 July 2009
17 October 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A report on the donation of human bodily material for medicine and research has made several recommendations including removing the current cap on egg and sperm donor expenses in the UK...
17 January 2011 - by Walter Merricks 
We regard it as morally wrong to buy or sell babies. We do not allow a trade in human body parts - kidneys, organs or blood. Commercial arrangements to pay fees to surrogate mothers are banned. The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) says there is a 'shortage' of donated gametes and embryos - in the sense that there are fewer gametes and embryos that have been donated than the number of people who would like to receive them. There are also 'shortages' of babies available...
29 March 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
US ethical guidelines on compensation for egg donation are frequently being breached and student donors with higher-than-average SAT scores are being offered higher compensation for their eggs, according to a US study...
21 September 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens 
British couples travelling abroad to take advantage of commercial surrogate arrangements are engaging in a form of 'exploitation', Professor Naomi Pfeffer, an expert in the ethics and regulation of controversial developments in medicine, said at a fertility meeting this week....
3 August 2009 - by Sarah Norcross 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) published new figures showing the number of new egg and sperm donors registered in 2008. The figures published on 31 July 2009 show that the number of both sperm and egg donors has increased....
30 May 2007 - by MacKenna Roberts 
By MacKenna Roberts: US Sociologist Rene Almeling has discovered that the dramatic disparity between the value of egg donors over sperm donors goes much deeper than compensation fees. Her research reveals that sperm donors are undervalued fiscally, and are also treated with less appreciation, and are less prepared for the...
9 December 2005 - by Andrew Berkley, Professor Ian Craft and Dr Alan Thornhill 
The results of the recent Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) consultation exercise to review payments and benefits in kind for sperm, egg and embryo donors (SEED review, HFEA 2005) were frankly disappointing, and will make no difference to most UK donors. A golden opportunity to improve donor recruitment has...
11 November 2005 - by BioNews 
The number of potential sperm donors applying to one UK clinic fell sharply after 2000, 'almost certainly' due to growing awareness that changes to the law would remove donors' right to anonymity, a new study shows. The researchers, based at the Newcastle Fertility Centre at LIFE, have called for urgent...
10 October 2005 - by BioNews 
Statistics accompanying the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)'s publication of the results of its sperm, egg and embryo donation (SEED) review show that the profile of sperm donors in the UK has changed. The statistics show that men who donate sperm are now far less likely to...
7 October 2005 - by BioNews 
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...
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