At last week's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) press launch of a public consultation on issues in sperm, egg and embryo donation, HFEA Chair Suzi Leather said it was not the job of the regulator to try to increase the numbers of UK gamete donors, in the light of the expected shortages after donors' anonymity is removed in April 2005.
This is indeed so, and organisations such as the National Gamete Donation Trust are already working closely with the UK Department of Health towards this end, and individual fertility clinics are also trying hard to recruit donors. However these efforts must be matched by pragmatic HFEA guidelines to make it easier for the members of the public who would like to become donors, to do so.
For some years, even preceding the final announcement in January 2004 of the removal of donor anonymity, UK clinics have reported a fall in the number of egg and sperm donors coming forward. This shortage means that a review of the system, working within the frameworks of current UK law and the incoming EU Tissues and Cells Directive, coming into force in 2006, is both very welcome and long overdue.
Unhelpful press coverage on this consultation, such as the recent Daily Mail editorial 'Babies for Sale', clearly does little to encourage donors to come forward. This matters, because the HFEA's own statistics showed that this year, 90 per cent of responding UK clinics did not have enough donated eggs, and 50 per cent not enough donated sperm, to keep up with patients' needs.
In the reimbursement of their personal expenses, egg and sperm donors are currently treated equivalently. Donating eggs in particular is time-consuming, and physically invasive - usually involving several clinic consultations and tests, and often counselling appointments, daily injections and surgical egg collection followed by some days recovery time, precluding normal work and family responsibilities.
The 15 pounds payment for donors, and more importantly, the cap on compensation for financial loss and childminding expenses claims at 50 pounds per day, especially for women with young children who have to travel to clinic appointments, clearly may not reflect the actual cost of donating.
It is not in the interests of egg donors in particular, or the couples relying on their altruism to assist their fertility problems, to continue effectively relying on donors' goodwill and for some, their personal subsidisation, to complete donation process. We need a new, pragmatic level of regulation to more easily allow real people, juggling real responsibilities, to fit becoming a donor into their lives. Patients can't continue to rely on a handful of heroes.
Progress Educational Trust, the UK charity that publishes BioNews, is holding a one-day conference in London on Wednesday 17 November to discuss these and related issues. Donors, recipients, and the professionals who work with them will speak on the platform and from the floor on issues including payment for gamete donors, and the selection of donors.
The event will be written up, and feedback submitted to the HFEA as evidence to their public consultation. Conference details are available at www.progress.org.uk, consultation details at www.HFEA.gov.uk. Please call to book your place on 020 7278 7870.