The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a public consultation on sperm, egg and embryo donation. It is seeking views on issues such as limits on the number of children per donor, how donor's characteristics should be matched with patients, and how much compensation donors should be paid. The consultation takes the form of an online questionnaire, available via the HFEA's website, and is open until 4 February 2005.
The consultation, entitled 'The Regulation of Donor Assisted Conception', follows a recent change in UK law, which will allow people conceived using donated sperm to receive identifying information about their donor. The new legislation, announced in January 2004, will take effect from 1 April 2005. At time of the announcement, many fertility doctors expressed fears that it would lead to a drop in the number of donors, who are already in short supply. Speaking about the consultation, HFEA chair Suzi Leather said that 'our research shows that clinics are struggling to find suitable, willing donors for their patients'. She added that the changes in the law present 'new challenges', and called for people to make their views known, especially those already born from donor conception.
One proposal outlined in the document is to increase the compensation payment made to egg donors, up to as much as £1000. At the moment they receive £15, plus 'reasonable expenses', the same amount as sperm donors. However, patient groups argue that egg donation is more time-consuming, and causes more inconvenience than sperm donation. 'We do not want women to be motivated by money, but a lot of egg donors do lose financially', said Laura Spoelstra, of the National Gamete Donation Trust. 'If women are adequately compensated, that could help increase the numbers who come forward, but we also need more awareness of the whole need for donors', she added.
Pro-life group Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE) has criticised the consultation, calling it a 'smokescreen' to legitimise payment of egg and sperm donors. 'Concepts of human dignity and international prohibitions on the sale of human tissue are set aside as the mindless HFEA searchers for new ways to promote donor conceptions', said Josephine Quintavalle, head of CORE. The consultation forms part of the HFEA's ongoing SEED (sperm, egg and embryo donation) review, which includes a survey of UK clinics and a review of current scientific and clinical evidence in this area. Over 37,000 children have now been born in the UK following donor-assisted conception.