Will a new, higher payment allowance have much impact on donor-assisted fertility treatment in the UK?
Its all about the money, money, money when it comes to donor gametes, according to some in the fertility field. Until now, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has limited compensation for egg and sperm donation to a maximum of £250, for reasonable expenses such as travel and loss of earnings, but has denied donors any other payment. However, a report to be published by the HFEA this week is expected to raise that maximum sum to £700.
The question of compensation for donor sperm and eggs has been hotly debated in the UK for years, from an ethical standpoint as well as a practical one. At one extreme, there are people who believe that payment for donor gametes amounts to the commercial trading of human flesh. Others merely find the idea distasteful. The HFEA itself does not want to be seen to be creating a financial incentive to donate. However, the other major consideration here is the one of supply and demand. There has been a shortage of donor gametes in the UK, which many people believe is a result of the no-payment rules. This is not the case in countries like the USA, where payment is allowed.
The perspectives of both donor and recipient will, of course, be based upon more personal considerations. For those requiring donor gametes in order to have a baby the shortage of supply can be frustrating and the alternative route of going abroad for fertility treatment can be extremely expensive. Donors must take into account the time, effort and discomfort involved in providing sperm or eggs. Egg donation, in particular, involves the taking of hormone medication by injection for several weeks, and then an invasive procedure under general anaesthetic to retrieve the eggs.
The change in HFEA regulations has the support of fertility industry groups, including the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the British Fertility Society, according to an article in the Sunday Times. Nuffield Council on Bioethics likens donors to volunteers who test new medicines and suggests they be paid similarly. The British Fertility Society is more specific; suggesting fees of up to $1,000 for sperm donors and between £500 and £2,500 for egg donors in addition to a fixed amount of compensation for their discomfort and inconvenience. It is unclear how much will actually be paid to donors of sperm or eggs, when the recipients are receiving free IVF through the NHS, and who will be responsible for that payment.
The proposed UK compensation scheme will almost certainly lead to an increase in the supply of donor gametes, if other countries models can be relied upon. It means that someone who considers being a donor can weigh their reservations about the time and effort it will involve with the compensation they will receive. No one is going to get wealthy on this scheme as the compensation isnt overly generous and there are also regulations in place which limit the number of times a person can donate gametes. The limited payments also means that people who must pursue private fertility treatment are not faced with enormous additional costs, but will probably benefit from a greater supply. Look out for news of the changing HFEA regulations this week.