Welcome news out of the United Kingdom:
The body that regulates fertility treatment in the UK is considering increasing compensation for egg and sperm donors.
Women who donate eggs are currently paid £250, but this could rise considerably under moves to address egg and sperm shortages at IVF clinics. Many fertility clinics have long waiting lists, driving some childless couples abroad. No decision will be made until the end of a public consultation next year.
A spokesperson for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) told the BBC: “We will be looking at a number of issues related to donation policies, one of which will be compensation given to donors. We haven’t decided on a figure.”
The HFEA is holding a three-month public consultation into its donation policies, starting in January 2011. It follows concern over the number of Britons travelling to countries such as Spain to receive IVF because of shortages of donated eggs and sperm in the UK.
In the UK, egg and sperm donors cannot be paid but can claim “reasonable expenses” for travel and loss of earnings. This is limited to a maximum of £250 per cycle of egg donation or course of sperm donation.
Some fertility experts say this is too low to attract donors, and they should be paid more for their time and efforts. Reports have suggested around £800 or more per cycle of egg donation but this has not been confirmed.
Susan Seenan of the support group, Infertility Network UK, which helps infertile couples, said it was right to look at all the policies surrounding egg and sperm donation. She said: “We know that many patients are travelling abroad for treatment, often because of the severe lack of sperm and egg donors in the UK.
“Although many patients do receive a high standard care abroad, this is not ideal and the rules and regulations in other countries can be totally different from that in the UK.” She said patients deserved access to safe, regulated treatment in their own country, and there was a need to find some way of increasing the number of both sperm and egg donors in the UK.
While this news is promising, I am not certain that the additional £800 is enough to incentivize an otherwise apathetic donor population. Egg Donors in other countries are routinely receiving 5-10 times that amount in order to address egg and sperm shortages. Just to provide some context, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine has set $5,000 as the maximum amount of egg donor compensation that does not require additional justification and $10,000 as the maximum cap. Further, the ASRM had some other interesting observations about donor compensation:
Payments to women providing oocytes should be fair and not so substantial that they become undue inducements that will
lead donors to discount risks. Monetary compensation should reflect the time, inconvenience, and physical and emotional demands associated with the oocyte donation process. A 1993 analysis estimated that oocyte donors spend 56 hours in the medical setting, undergoing interviews, counseling, and medical procedures related to the process. According to this analysis, if men receive $25 for sperm donation, which this analysis estimated as taking 1 hour, oocyte donors should receive at least $1,400 for the hours they spend in the donation process (14). In 2000, the average payment to sperm donors was $60–$75, which this analysis suggests would justify a payment of $3,360–$4,200 to oocyte donors.
Although potential harm must be acknowledged and addressed, financial compensation may be defended on ethical grounds. First, providing financial incentives increases the number of oocyte donors, which in turn, allows more infertile persons to have children. Second, the provision of financial or in-kind benefits does not necessarily discourage altruistic motivations; indeed, in surveys of women receiving such benefits, most reported that helping childless persons remained a significant factor in their decisions to donate (4, 7–9). In a recent survey of donors who had been compensated up to $5,000, 88% of subjects reported that the best thing about the donation experience was ‘‘being able to help someone’’ (8).
Third, financial compensation may be defended on grounds that it advances the ethical goal of fairness to donors. There is no doubt that egg donors bear burdens on behalf of recipients and society, and compensation for bearing those burdens are justified morally. Because the burdens of donation are similar regardless of the ultimate use of the oocytes, compensating egg donors for fertility therapy differently from donors for research cannot be justified. Thus, we disagree with the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences with respect to compensation for oocyte donation for stem cell research (10).
The failure to provide financial or in-kind benefits to oocyte donors would arguably demean their significant contribution. Such an approach also would treat female gamete donors differently from sperm donors, who typically receive a financial benefit (albeit a modest one) for a much less risky and intrusive procedure. Fourth, the pressures created by financial incentives do not necessarily exceed and may be less than those experienced by women asked to make altruistic donations to relatives or friends.
It will be interesting to see if the UK can solve its shortage by bumping up the compensation to One Thousand Pounds (or approximately $1,500 U.S. Dollars).
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