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The Changing Landscape of Donation

This policy document is the first part of a response submitted by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's Consultation Donating Sperm and Eggs: Have Your Say.

1. What action, besides amending HFEA policy, do you think could be taken to increase the availability of donated sperm and eggs in the UK?

A change to the law to enable donors to be paid for their donation, which is currently prohibited
A change to the law to enable donors to be anonymous, which is currently prohibited
A change to the law, other (please specify)
A change to professional guidance on donor screening
A change to professional guidance, other (please specify)
Increasing people's awareness of, and educating people about, donation
Carrying out national donor recruitment campaigns
Other (please specify)

It is incumbent upon all of us who believe gamete donation to be desirable - especially those of us who work in science, medicine, and related areas of policy and public engagement - to persuade the public of the merits of donating gametes. In other words, we believe that society should encourage - but obviously, not compel - its citizens to become donors.

While formal campaigns to improve awareness and understanding of gamete donation are valuable and important, there is also an important role to be played by informal and spontaneous efforts to encourage gamete donation. Just as people help one another overcome adversity, so helping one another overcome infertility should be recognised as an important part of social solidarity.

2 (a). Do you think we have accurately captured the principles relevant to donation?


2 (b). Do you think there are other relevant principles that should be considered? If yes, please specify.

One factor that could conceivably come under the auspices of the principle of 'pragmatism', but also deserves specific consideration, is the possibility that the demand for donor gametes will never be satisfied no matter what measures are taken. More substantial academic research should be undertaken to establish precisely what the demand for donor gametes is, and the results of this research should be widely disseminated, because the terms in which the donor shortage is currently discussed are often far from clear.

That said, it is also important to disentangle pragmatic considerations from debates about the ethics of donation, because the two things are often unhelpfully conflated. The distinction between these two things is certainly not made sufficiently clear in the background information provided by the HFEA to people responding to this consultation.

We believe that assisted conception using donor gametes is morally justified, and we believe that remunerating donors - whether via compensation, as at present, or via explicit payment - is also morally justified. Others disagree with this view. The fact of a donor shortage does not, in itself, bolster either our view or the views of others.

Granted, it is important to try to meet demand for donor gametes, because failure to do so makes it more likely that unregulated and potentially unsafe practices will prosper. But whatever principles are established to govern gamete donation, these principles need to be defensible irrespective of whether or not there is a shortage of donor gametes.

2 (c). Do you think there are principles outlined that should not be considered? If yes, please specify.

The formulation 'respect for family life' is perhaps best known from its inclusion the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, where it appears as the 'right to respect for private and family life', in the context of concerns about privacy. When the formulation is removed from this context, it can be too easily appropriated to reinforce an overly moralistic view of the family, which deprecates assisted conception in favour of natural conception and deprecates unconventional family structures in favour of traditional family structures.

In the background information provided by the HFEA to people responding to this consultation, it is noted that 'the structure of the family is changing and so too are patterns of personal behaviour'. These facts are not in themselves problematic. The (sound) principle that people should have an opportunity to start a family should therefore be formulated in such a way that it does not lend itself so easily to a one-sided defence of natural conception and the traditional family.

The principle of 'openness' is also open to misappropriation. While recipients of gametes should have access to all available donor information, it does not necessarily follow from this that donors should be encouraged to give more than the rudimentary information that has been legally required of them since the entitlement to donor anonymity was removed. It is not the place of the HFEA or other authorities to make or encourage any pejorative assumptions about the amount of information that a gamete donor provides.