A donated human egg will be raffled on Wednesday to mark the launch of a new IVF service which helps UK women to access egg donation services in America. The new service, offered by the Bridge Centre in London, will allow patients to select egg donors on the basis of characteristics such as racial background, health, education and appearance.
Potential egg recipients must attend a seminar being organised by the Bridge Centre to be in with a chance of winning. They will then travel to the Genetics and IVF Institute (GIVF) in Fairfax, Virginia, to have IVF treatment using the donor egg, a service which would usually cost £13,000.
One of the primary aims of the service is to combat the chronic shortage of egg donors in the UK, according to Mohamed Menabawey, Director of the Bridge Centre. 'All we are trying to do is react to changes in supply and demand and help them,' he told the Daily Mail.
At least ten UK women have reportedly already made use of the new service and more are on the waiting list to do so within the next few months, the Bridge Centre has said. It expects that figure to more than double in future.
As part of the service, egg recipients are offered personal information, including racial background, education, health and upbringing, along with childhood photographs as an indication of what their own child might look like. However, the donors can retain their anonymity, unlike UK where egg and sperm donors must be identifiable.
Jennifer Machovina, GIVF's donor egg programme co-ordinator, said that donors go through a rigorous selection process before being accepted. She told the Daily Telegraph that only around five of the 500 applications the clinic receives from prospective egg donors each month are accepted onto the scheme.
'Although it is anonymous, they get asked a lot of questions. We want them to understand this is something bigger than a process with a cheque at the end of it,' she said. 'We have about 200 donors on our books and they cover a big range of ethnicities and backgrounds, so people have more chance of getting a donor who looks like them.'
In the UK egg donors receive a maximum payment of £250 to cover expenses. In the US, however, egg donors can be paid thousands of dollars for their donation, meaning there is no shortage of donors.
Speaking to the AFP, Michael Summers, consultant in reproductive medicine at the Bridge Centre, said the service was legal 'because it's the choice of the patient'. 'We only provide information on the services available,' he added.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, a spokesperson from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), agreed the clinic was operating within the law by offering the service. 'It is bypassing the rules because people can be paid for egg donation in America and eggs are often donated anonymously,' they said.