Page URL: https://www.progress.org.uk/ncobbodies30

This policy document is part of a response submitted by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Consultation on Human Bodies in Medicine and Research.


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The inability to procure an adequate supply of donor gametes in the UK is encouraging patients to travel abroad for fertility treatment. In the first study of its kind in the UK, researchers from De Montfort University interviewed 51 people about their reasons for seeking fertility treatment overseas and their experiences of it. The study, led by Professor Lorraine Culley, found that 71 % of those interviewed went abroad to seek treatment using donor gametes.

Overseas treatment may result in compromised care either overseas (where quality control and inspection procedures may not be in place) or back in the UK (where patients may struggle to gain access to follow-up care). Furthermore, overseas treatment undermines domestic policy and regulation by allowing it to be circumvented - for example, in relation to identifiable donors, sex selection and single embryo transfer.

The shortage of donor gametes in the UK poses problems not only for fertility treatment, but also for research. For example, somatic cell nuclear transfer, which aims to generate patient-specific stem cells to create replacement tissue, is dependent upon a sufficient supply of human eggs.

The shortage of donor gametes in the UK is partially attributable to the lack of an adequately funded body with a sustained marketing strategy raising awareness of the problem. The National Gamete Donation Trust does excellent work, but is hamstrung because of its lack of infrastructure and limited budget (it has only one paid member of staff). If the model for gamete donation in the UK continues to be altruistic, as seems likely for the foreseeable future, then the donor recruitment strategy needs overhauling and sustained investment.

That said, if the UK were able to move away from the altruistic model of gamete donation, then this would be a welcome development. Many countries, including the USA, buy and sell gametes routinely, and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has no jurisdiction to prevent Britons from travelling abroad to do so as well. A regulated market framework for gamete donation may ultimately be the best way to protect the interests of UK citizens.