The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a new strategy to increase awareness of egg and sperm donation and to improve the care of donors. It aims to address perceived obstacles to donor recruitment aired during its consultation on gamete donation last year.
The HFEA will set up the National Donation Strategy Group to review the current system of donation and to suggest improvements, which could help boost donor numbers. Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA, said: 'We are using our unique position as the national regulator to bring together a wide range of expertise to gather valuable knowledge that will help us build a better environment for donation'.
According to HFEA statistics, around one in six couples in the UK are affected by infertility, many of whom could be helped by the donation of eggs or sperm. The HFEA says demand for donor treatment in the UK is greater than the supply of donors and following a review of its donation policies has agreed to take a more 'proactive role' to improve donor recruitment and retention.
The new strategy seeks to increase awareness of donation and improve information provided to donors. The strategy group will investigate options designed to achieve this aim. One potential source of gametes is from women undergoing IVF, as the treatment will often stimulate a woman to produce more eggs than they will use. 'Now some of them choose to freeze those for further attempts but there may well be more eggs than that, in which case donating them to another woman who doesn't have viable eggs of her own is the most extraordinary gift', said Professor Jardine.
Another aim of the strategy group will be to look at ways to help donors to provide more information about themselves, for the benefit of the recipient parents and future children. In addition, the HFEA wants to address the 'customer service' that donors receive in clinics. Ms Laura Witjens, chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust, said that the strategy group 'will ensure that donors are properly looked after and valued for their commitments'.
Critics have responded that donors should not be further encouraged to donate. 'It's one thing to incur risks for your own fertility treatment', said Mrs Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics. '[It is] quite another to be exposed to those risks for the benefit of other mothers'.
The decision to set up the strategy group follows the launch of a new policy in October 2011, which increased the compensation offered to donors. Egg donors are now offered £750 per cycle and sperm donors £35 per visit. The policy came into force on 1 April.