Earl Howe called the debate because of concern that the regulations took the law into ethical territory which had not been subject to parliamentary scrutiny. One of the issues of particular concern was the intergenerational transfer of gametes and embryos. Tory former Education Secretary Lord Patten said in the debate: 'I dislike intensely the thought of scrambling the generations' (1).
Some of their Lordships had not realised that intergenerational donation was permitted prior to these regulations. One of the changes brought in is the extension of the storage period for which people can donate gametes or embryos for the use of others from ten to up to 55 years.
Girls affected by Turner Syndrome (TS) are among those who stand to benefit from the changes which have been made. TS is a condition where women have one X chromosome missing which causes infertility from a young age. Now their mothers can, if they wish, freeze their own egg so that their daughters may use them if and when they chose to have a family. There are several important points to make here. The mothers who choose to take this action must usually do so quickly as it is well evidenced that the quality of eggs deteriorates with age, so ideally the mother must donate the eggs by the time she is 35. This means that the daughter for whom they are to be preserved is likely to be a young girl with no plans of a family of her own and who is probably not in a position to make choices which affect her options for fertility treatment in the long-term. Nor you may think should a girl of say ten be made to worry about a family she may or may not want in the future. The old ten year storage limit was not helpful to these young girls as they may still have not finished their education before the time limit expired.
One mother has campaigned for the changes to be made so as to increase her daughter's options for creating a family in the future. She is an ordinary mum with an extraordinary determination to do the best for her daughter and others in similar situations. She gained coverage in the national media and a lot of public support (2). I cannot emphasise enough that these are options for the mother and the daughter. No one is forcing the mother to donate her eggs and no one will force the daughter into using them. It is a question of reproductive choice and future reproductive confidence.
During the Lords debate, Earl Howe expressed concern that whilst counselling is offered whenever in IVF treatment is being contemplated that offer does not have to be taken up. Although counselling is not compulsory I cannot imagine that many fertility clinics in the UK would not insist upon it in the case of intergenerational donation. Concerns were voiced in the Lords and on an earlier occasion by Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, about the welfare of the children born in such circumstances, who might suffer from an identity crisis and psychological confusion. Why is this more confusing in these scenarios than with a donor whose identity will only be discovered later? My belief is that it is the limited vocabulary which we use here, the use of 'mother' in relation to someone who has donated eggs, acted as a surrogate as well as the person who is has that role on a day to day basis which causes some of the confusion.
Professor Jardine said that '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' (3). The situation where a girl becomes pregnant, chooses not to have a termination and her mother agrees to bring the child up as her own under a cloak of secrecy and shame is very different from where there has been a donation of gametes. And for those little girls who have their mother's eggs frozen for possible future use let us hope their biggest worries are the same as those of their peers (not the ones in the Lords) - who will win the X Factor.