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Cap on gamete donor expenses in the UK should be lifted, report recommends

17 October 2011
Appeared in BioNews 629

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.

'We would like to see the £250 cap on egg and sperm donor expenses removed to ensure that lost earnings are reimbursed in full. People who are willing to donate for other people's treatment should not be left out of pocket', said Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern, who chaired the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' working party which produced the report.

The report considered the ethical issues of egg and sperm donation amid a shortage in the supply of donor eggs and sperm and long waiting lists for IVF. It also suggests that payment over and above expenses could be offered to women who are prepared to donate eggs for research in return for the discomfort and inconvenience they experience and recommends a pilot scheme be set up to explore the issue.

'Donating eggs for research purposes is different from donating to help someone else's treatment. You're not usually trying to help a particular individual - you are more a participant in a research exercise', said Professor Strathern. 'We think it would be ethically justified to offer payment to women who are willing to give their time and undergo uncomfortable procedures in order to donate eggs for research'.

Egg donors face health risks including ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, infections, and bleeding. The report the states there is a 'lack of good quality data on the long-term risks of repeat egg donation' and further empirical research is necessary. It also recommends no changes to the current policy of egg sharing for women who are not able to access NHS fertility services, but cautions it is 'not appropriate' to use the policy as a basis for approving financial incentives for egg donation.

The Council rejected the idea of paying a 'purchase' price for the gamete itself - other than recompense for lost earnings and discomfort - and called for a national register of gamete donors to be established, endorsing the good practice guidance issued by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology on the treatment of egg donors in the context of cross border reproductive care. It also recommended that the World Health Organisation should develop 'appropriate guiding principles to protect egg donors from abuse or exploitation'.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is due to make a set of decisions concerning compensation or benefit in kind to donors later this month, following its recent consultation and review of gamete donation policies in the UK. The payment of donors in the UK is currently prohibited by the HFEA, but donors can claim 'reasonable expenses' for loss of earnings up to a maximum of £250 per course of sperm donation or cycle of egg donation.

Commenting on the issue of gamete donation, Sarah Norcross - director of the charity that publishes BioNews, the Progress Educational Trust (PET) - said: 'Compensation for loss of earnings needs to be variable in order to reflect the fact that loss of earnings themselves vary depending upon the different circumstances in which people find themselves'.

Among its other recommendations, the Council's report suggests the NHS should pay for the funerals of organ donors to help address the current shortage of organs. It says this would be an ethical way of encouraging people to sign the Organ Donor Register.

The report, entitled 'Human Bodies: Donation for Medicine and Research', is a product of an 18-month inquiry led by a working party which included experts in medicine, ethics and law. The report concludes that the principle of altruism should continue to be central to approach all types of donation but says this does not preclude the possibility of permitting some form of payment in certain circumstances.

Human Bodies: Donation for Medicine and Research (.pdf 3.38 MB)
Nuffield Council on Bioethics |  11 October 2011
Response to Nuffield Council on Bioethics Consultation on Human Bodies in Medicine and Research
Progress Educational Trust |  13 July 2010
14 January 2013 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The image of the sperm donor nipping off between lectures to casually donate for a few quid of beer money was neatly set aside by this thought-provoking debate. In his place, in strode the complex male – knowledgeable, thoughtful, sensitive… and probably over 25...
28 August 2012 - by Daniel Malynn 
In this documentary of extremes, freelance journalist and documentary producer Storm Theunissen finds out how cash-strapped Britons can make money using their bodies. On one side, you have Storm's outlandish plans to make money by selling urine and earwax for medical testing. On the other, there is an altogether more interesting and insightful look at egg donation in both the UK and USA....
24 October 2011 - by Walter Merricks 
Perhaps the Government is right to plan to abolish the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The astonishing behaviour of its members at last week's open Authority meeting over compensation for egg and sperm donors will lower its reputation in the eyes of some of its erstwhile supporters. Those who might have manned the barricades to halt the Government's plans may now wonder whether the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – the health and social care regulator set to take over the H...
24 October 2011 - by Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern 
'How far should society go in encouraging people to donate their bodily material?' is the question at the heart of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' report on the ethics of donation for medicine and research, which was published earlier this month...
24 October 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
It was the recommendations to pay for the funeral expenses of organ donors and to remove the cap on compensation for gamete donors that made the headlines. But it is not the specific recommendations of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' report 'Human bodies: donation for medicine and research' that it will be remembered for...
30 September 2011 - by Dr Kamal Ahuja 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has already made two decisions following its public consultation and review of gamete donation policies in the UK: first, intra-familial gamete donation can continue as before (subject to certain provisions); and second, the number of families which a single donor might help create remains limited to ten. The bigger question on compensation and benefit in kind to donors will not be answered until later this year...
3 May 2011 - by Professor Eric Blyth 
During its 20-year history, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has notched up significant achievements in the regulation of assisted human reproduction that have rightly drawn respect worldwide. An important characteristic of the HFEA's approach to regulation has been its use of public consultations to inform policy development...
24 January 2011 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
The UK's fertility watchdog, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has launched a public consultation on how sperm and egg donation should be regulated....
25 October 2010 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Should we pay women to become egg donors to tackle the 'mismatch' between supply and demand? This question was debated last week in an event organised by the Progress Educational Trust in partnership with the Royal Society of Medicine, supported by the National Gamete Donation Trust and the British Fertility Society (BFS)...
12 April 2010 - by National Gamete Donation Trust 
The Trustees of the National Gamete Donation Trust were interested to read Dr John Parsons' article on introducing payment for altruistic egg donors. In principle we support egg sharing, but are concerned about the discrepancy between what is effectively payment in kind, and the reimbursement given to altruistic donors....
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