The HFEA is seeking views from the public on whether donors - who are short in supply - should be compensated for the time and inconvenience involved in the process of donation and, if so, to what extent. The consultation also asks respondents for their views on intra-familial donation.
Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA, said: 'We know that many people are facing long waiting lists at clinics because of a shortage of donors. We want to ensure that we have the best policies in place so that there are no unnecessary barriers in the way of those wishing to donate while protecting those who are born as a result of donation'.
She also added that 'the increasing openness about the children it produces meant that the whole of society ought to be involved in deciding what was acceptable'.
Demand for fertility treatment is increasing with currently up to 1 in 7 couples in the UK experiencing fertility problems but there is a shortage of sperm and egg donors. Even though only about 12 percent of fertility treatments involve donated eggs or sperm, the HFEA believes this may rise if there were sufficient numbers of donors to fill demand.
Presently, the HFEA allows compensation for expenses and loss of earnings up
to £250 per course or cycle of donation, but not for 'inconvenience' as some
other countries do. In Spain, for example, egg donors receive around £765 and
sperm donors £40 per sample.
Some campaign organisations have expressed concerns that women's bodies are being turned into 'commodities'. Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, said: 'This is a step towards a market in organs, with all the exploitation that entails'. Dr Alex Plows, of the group No2Eggsploitation, said any plan to allow financial compensation for egg donors may 'induce students with debts, and others, to take serious health risks and it is inevitable that many will be harmed'.
The HFEA consultation is also looking at the number of families that may result from the use sperm from a single donor. At the moment, the number is limited to ten - designed to minimise the chances of resulting children unknowingly engaging in incestuous relationships - but Professor Jardine said in practice the limit often results in only two or three families using the sperm.
The consultation ('Donating sperm and eggs: have your say ') is being carried out on the HFEA website and is open until 8 April 2011. The findings will be presented to the HFEA board in July, where any decisions on changes in policy will be outlined.