Debate: Paying Egg Donors: A Child At Any Price?

Progress Educational Trust
Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London W1G 0AE
20 October 2010, 6.30pm-8.30pm

An evening debate organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) in partnership with the Royal Society of Medicine, supported by the British Fertility Society and the National Gamete Donation Trust.

Recent headlines have reignited the debate over whether payment might be an acceptable way to address the current shortage of egg donors. Some newspapers have speculated that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is planning to allow women to be paid thousands of pounds to donate their eggs. Could such a scenario lead to British students ‘going to university on an egg’? The HFEA will explore the possibility of paying egg donors in a public consultation beginning in January 2011.

After its last review of this question in 2005, the HFEA concluded that paying donors was neither possible (because it would conflict with the European Union‘s 2004 Tissues and Cells Directive) nor desirable (because ‘offering compensation for the physical inconvenience or risk of donation may encourage some people to donate without thinking sufficiently about the consequences’). But in 2009, the HFEA’s chair Lisa Jardine told the Times newspaper that payment to donors was worth considering if it could help dissuade fertility patients from seeking unlicensed or overseas treatment: ‘My agenda is to try to keep assisted reproduction within our regulated area, not because I’m bossy but out of concern for patient welfare.’

It is already the case that egg donors receive ‘loss of earnings’ compensation, but this is limited to a daily maximum of £61.28 and an overall maximum of £250, which compares poorly with the £97.80 median daily pay received by full-time employees in the UK. It is also the case that egg sharing schemes are permitted in the UK, and these enable women to receive fertility treatment at vastly reduced cost if they donate eggs for use by other patients or for research. Some argue that there is little moral or practical difference between these nominally indirect forms of compensation, and direct payment. Others fear that direct payment would commodify not only eggs, but also egg donors and donor-conceived children.

This evening debate will see the issue of paying egg donors debated by a panel of experts with contrasting perspectives, who will explore the medical, ethical and legal dimensions of various forms of compensation and remuneration. In the PET tradition, following introductory presentations the bulk of the debate’s running time will be devoted to soliciting questions and comments from the audience.

The debate is free to attend, but advance booking is required. If you email Sandy Starr at sstarr@progress.org.uk then he will add you to the attendee list.

Speakers include:

Dr Sue Avery, Director of the Fertility Centre at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, and researcher at the University of Birmingham’s Stem Cell Centre

Professor Brian Lieberman, Medical Director of Manchester Fertility Services, and Consultant Gynaecologist at St Mary’s Hospital for Women and Children

Raanan Gillon, Chair of the Institute of Medical Ethics, and Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health

Laura Witjens, Chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust, and altruistic egg donor

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