The United Kingdom is considering liberalizing their laws on compensated egg donation:
The fertility watchdog is to look at offering more generous compensation to egg and sperm donors as a means of tackling the severe shortage of supplies for those desperate for a baby. But some are uneasy about the prospect of handing over significant amounts of cash for spare human parts, warning it may be a step too far towards the commodification of the body.
A group of feminists who dub themselves No2eggsploitation has written to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority registering their concerns, arguing that money could well induce poor, vulnerable women to undertake “significant health risks” involved in donation. “ Our main concern is that this will induce women who are in financial need to take significant risks with their health – it is not acceptable to create a situation in which poorer women are disproportionately induced to take such risks ”
But this is really where the problem lies – and why some people feel so strongly donors should receive more in the way of compensation. Unlike the relatively straightforward process of donating sperm, offering eggs is a much more arduous process that is not risk free. A female donor must effectively undergo a cycle of IVF herself, involving daily injections to stimulate her ovaries into releasing eggs which are then harvested under anaesthetic.
The principle health risk is that she develops ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can in the most extreme cases be fatal. This appears to be rare, although No2eggsploitation’s letter argues that the HFEA has no way of monitoring the risk. More generally it is invasive and time-consuming, yet at present she can only claim the same as a man who offers a specimen of his sperm – a maximum of just £250 in expenses for their troubles.
It is a derisory payment, according to Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust, which leaves many donors out of pocket and pointedly fails to draw any distinction between the sperm and the egg donor.
The chair of the HFEA, Professor Lisa Jardine, said over the summer the situation did indeed need to be reviewed if more women were going to come forward and help tackle the chronic shortage of eggs in this country. There has also been a decline in the number of sperm donors, which some blame on the removal of anonymity for those who donate.
It is this lack of gametes – as sperm and eggs are collectively known – which is thought to have driven the rise in “fertility tourism” from Britain – often to countries where generous compensation payments are indeed made to those who give. And it is clearly effective: Spain for instance, where relatively high payments are made that remain in keeping with EU legislation on the subject, has no such drought.
Along with upper and lower age limits for donors as well as sperm donations between family members, the HFEA is now set for a major review of the rules regarding compensation for donation.
Among the issues under discussion by the HFEA include: donor compensation amounts, age restrictions on egg donors, intra-family donations and the ability of donors to dictate what patient groups can receive their eggs.