Fertility doctors offering a human egg as first prize in a raffle were last night accused of commercialising the miracle of life. One woman will win the chance to select their ideal donor egg based on its mother’s profession, ethnic background, hair colour, qualifications and upbringing. As part of the free IVF cycle and egg prize – worth an estimated £13,000 – the winner of a raffle in London will also be able to view childhood pictures of potential donors before choosing one.
The treatment will take place in America to get around British fertility laws. Critics have condemned the contest, intended to promote an international IVF scheme, as a ‘deplorable’ commercial venture. After the lottery was revealed on Mothering Sunday, Josephine Quintavalle, of think tank Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: ‘The capacity of the IVF industry to commodify human life reaches a new low with this latest deplorable initiative.
‘Imagine a child one day finding out that he or she came into being thanks to such a blatantly commercial initiative.’ Organisers hope the event on Wednesday will promote a programme run by the Genetics & IVF Institute in Virginia and the London Bridge Centre over here. Under a deal struck between the two clinics last year, infertile British women can be directed to the U.S. clinic where donated eggs are on offer from American university- educated women or students aged 19 to 32.
Unlike in Britain, where donors are paid no more than £250 in expenses, the American donors can get up to £6,600 a time. To promote the scheme – which is designed to get around Britain’s shortage of donor eggs and tight fertility laws – the Institute is hosting a seminar in London. According to an advert for the seminar, posted on the London Bridge Centre website, one person who attends the event will ‘win a free cycle of Donor Egg IVF’.
Mrs Quintavalle said the American women giving eggs were not donors but ‘simply getting money in exchange for body parts’. ‘The IVF clinics involved in this initiative are feeding off the colossal vulnerability of wealthy infertile women at the expense of the welfare of equally vulnerable poorer younger women; not an edifying trade-off under any circumstances, but particularly not when children are involved,’ she said. ‘Sale of human tissue, including human gametes, is prohibited across Europe. No UK clinic should be collaborating in any way whatsoever.’
But Mohamed Menabawey, director of the London Bridge Centre – which also has arrangements with clinics in Spain, the Ukraine and Crete – said infertile women face a chronic shortage of donor eggs in the UK. ‘All we are trying to is to react to changes in supply and demand and help them,’ he said. Defending the raffle, he added: ‘This is how Americans do it – in order to attract people to seminars they offer one free treatment for people to come.’ ‘I don’t see why it should go down badly at all. People should welcome the idea of having access to a high quality service.’
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said the raffle, and the tie-up with the U.S. clinic, was ‘perfectly legal’. A spokesman said: ‘It is bypassing the rules because people can be paid for egg donation in America and eggs are often donated anonymously.’
Is the promotion in poor taste? Perhaps. Is this a raffle of human body parts in which the corporate American boogeyman is exploiting the have-nots for the benefit of the wealthy? Hardly. This was nothing more than a company attempting to attract attention to a seminar and offering to a fortunate attendee the opportunity to win a free IVF cycle. In retrospect, the fury over this offer might have been avoided had Genetics & IVF Institute offered the free medical services to a patient suffering financial hardship. Then again, perhaps this faux outrage was exactly what Genetics & IVF Institute had hoped for when coming up with this promotion as the media would have ignored such an altruistic offer. Because given the media incited furor, Genetics & IVF Institute has not only garnered priceless publicity, but is likely assured of a standing-room only seminar.