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The Daily Mail has got Altrui and egg donation wrong

21 May 2012
By Alison Bagshawe
Founder and director, Altrui
Appeared in BioNews 657
A recent article in the Daily Mail about Altrui's information campaign towards students at Cambridge University (1) typifies popular press reporting at its worst and exemplifies some recurring myths about egg donation.

Irrespective of your personal or professional stance on egg donation, the fact is that many people seeking fertility treatment are forced to go abroad and it will remain that way until we get a workable programme here in the UK. So it is utterly frustrating that time and again information about egg donation is sensationalised.

What is worse is that many stories just add to the wall of negativity that confronts both recipients and donors, making it harder for everyone to move forward. In addition, much of what is written about egg donation in the UK is based on egg-sharing and not altruistic one-to-one donation. There is a huge difference.

We are not overly concerned about Altrui's reputation because those of you who know what we do recognise that we are trying to increase and raise awareness of altruistic egg donation in the UK. Our real concern is that every article like this just skews the public perception of egg donation to something that is somehow sleazy or unethical and to the idea that donors and recipients are being exploited.

In particular, the article played on two 'distasteful' concerns of the general public:

Payment for Donating Eggs

The Daily Mail's headline reads: 'Fertility firm offers Cambridge girls £750 for eggs'. This is the article's greatest misrepresentation. The Mail subtly (or not so subtly) blends our clients' appeal for a donor with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's statement about the level of compensation permitted to egg donors.

We cannot say it often enough - this is altruistic donation. Egg donors do not get paid to donate. It is in fact illegal to offer any payment or incentive for egg donation, so if the headline were true then we would be acting illegally.

Further on, the article makes reference to '"egg brokers" profiting from dealing in human lives' - another grossly misrepresentative statement which will do nothing to help further the legitimate cause of helping couples who need donor eggs.

Targeting Students

The article tries to make capital out of the exploitation of students, who are either 'financially vulnerable' or part of an 'elite'. This, apparently, 'raises concerns about attempts to create "superbabies"'.

Okay, so we can all see this is rubbish, but it does raise the question of who egg donors are and who is suitable to be one. The critics in the article are quoted as decrying approaches to students, although we wonder whether they were presented with the facts before making their comments.

What was not reported was that the flyers were only put in the pigeon holes of mature and final-year students. But even if they weren't, and younger undergraduates got them, is it really true that students are too young, stupid or immature to be donors or unable to throw away a leaflet?

Given that an 18-year-old in all other respects is considered to be an adult, how insulting it must be to have it implied that they are unable to make a sensible decision and should be denied a choice, or a voice. And what about the large numbers of 'mature' students now at university? Are they to be lumped in with immature 18-year-olds without the power of choice and discernment?

Articles like this imply that becoming a donor is like being duped into a quick sale - as if people are rushed through to donate before they know what has happened. In reality potential egg donors go through many gateways and a lengthy period of preparation at a licensed treatment centre, protected by UK legislation, which takes many months.

What we need in the UK is to have responsible media coverage to raise awareness that altruistic egg donation is the way forward, to recognise that there are many women who could and would help and that we are in danger of going backwards with such sensationalised reporting. Otherwise more couples will have to resort to seeking help abroad, unprotected by UK law.

Altrui has published a response to the Daily Mail article (2).

8 May 2017 - by Professor Adam Balen 
Last week the Daily Mail published an undercover investigation into certain aspects of IVF practice in the UK. Whilst this has highlighted some issues, unfortunately the meaning of published statistics has been misinterpreted and certain aspects of the investigation have been given far more weight than is just. Rather than serving the public good, this has the potential to leave vulnerable patients scared and confused.
16 April 2012 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a new strategy to increase awareness of egg and sperm donation and to improve the care of donors. It aims to address perceived obstacles to donor recruitment aired during its consultation on gamete donation last year....
24 October 2011 - by Sandy Starr 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has decided that donors should be paid fixed sums, and that these sums should be £35 per clinic visit for sperm donors and £750 per cycle of donation for egg donors...
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...
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