No2Eggsploitation and Human Genetics Alert
Embargo: 00.01am 17th January 2011
HFEA plans for egg donor compensation will lead to exploitation of women
Ethics takes second place to free market dogma and IVF industry demands
“HFEA plans to allow financial compensation for egg donors will lead to the exploitation of young women in financial stress,” said Dr Alex Plows, spokesperson for No2Eggsploitation (1) today. “These financial incentives will induce women students with massively increased debts, and others, to take serious health risks (2), and it is inevitable that many will be harmed. Another problem is that less well off women will be unable to afford the increased price of donated eggs, and NHS IVF services will be priced out of the market (3), creating further inequalities. We must not allow IVF business interests and free-market dogma to overthrow basic ethical values.”
Although it claims to be neutral, the HFEA’s bias, in favour of increased financial compensation as the best way to boost donor numbers, has been clear from many internal documents, and from the initial statement by Lisa Jardine, in July 2009 (4), in favour of straightforward payment for eggs (which is in fact illegal). However, they are hampered by the EU Tissues and Cells Directive, which was introduced to stop the international black market in human organs, and which bans financial incentives for donors. The concern about harm to donors is not theoretical: many Eastern European women have been harmed through serving as paid egg donors for Western European fertility tourists (5). The HFEA has acknowledged concerns about such ‘eggsploitation’ as a central reason for not allowing compensation (beyond reimbursement of expenses) in all its previous reports on this issue. Yet, astonishingly, the current consultation document does not even mention this concern, and does not adequately describe the health risks to donors; nor does it mention the internationally agreed principle that human tissue should not be a source of financial gain.
Because the EU Directive bans financial incentives, the HFEA’s argues that it does not want to create incentives, but rather to ‘remove disincentives’ for altruistic donors. But there is no evidence whatever that the HFEA’s target group – altruistic donors who are nonetheless reluctant to donate without cash compensation – even exists. Their previous report in 2006 (6) questioned whether offering altruistic donors cash payments would succeed in boosting donor numbers, and their research for this consultation agreed, pointing out that many altruistic donors are offended by the idea and would be put off (7).
The IVF industry, which is the only significant source of support for the HFEA’s plans, is not interested in such subtleties. It simply believes in the free-market dogma that financial incentives are needed; it clearly wants to reclaim the business that has recently gone to Spain, where donors are paid compensation of up to 1000 Euro. Yet evidence from Spain shows that, not surprisingly, most egg donors there are primarily interested in the money (8). Thus, despite the HFEA’s unconvincing fig leaf, introducing significant compensation is bound to recruit exactly the type of donor it says it does not want to encourage. We believe that resources would be better spent on campaigns to recruit altruistic donors than on offering them financial sweeteners (9).
Human Genetics Alert will tomorrow publish a briefing which analyses and refutes the arguments in favour of compensation, and shows how the HFEA understates the risks of egg donation, how, over the last 10 years it has engineered a slippery slope towards ever increasing payments for donors, and how this step will in turn move us nearer to a market for organs.
For further information or to arrange an interview, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Dr Alex Plows (07775 603341) or Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert (020 7502 7516).
Notes for editors
1. No2Eggsploitation is a network of feminists opposed to the commercialisation of egg donation. Like Human Genetics Alert, (which is an independent watchdog group), it supports abortion rights.
2. The attached briefing describes the process of egg donation and analyses both short and long term risks, showing that they are greater than the HFEA and most IVF doctors admit, and that they are
3. The HFEA’s own research has mentioned this as a serious concern (HFEA paper 528 Para 10.15 http://www.hfea.gov.uk/docs/2009-12-09_Authority_papers_-_528_SEED_Evaluation.pdf ), although the current consultation document fails to even mention the issue. In Spain, where donors are paid up to 1000 Euro, public hospitals, which cannot afford this, are unable to attract egg donors (see ref in Note 8)
5. See for example, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1339041/The-brutal-fertility-factories-trading-British-mothers-dreams.html, or http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-396220/The-misery-baby-trade.html. One particularly outrageous aspect of the HFEA’s behaviour in the current debate is that it has not even paid lipservice to this issue, preferring to argue that the problem with fertility tourism is that British women seeking eggs may have a less good experience in foreign clinics, and that children may not be able to find their donor in future, because donors are anonymous outside the UK.
6. The SEED report (http://www.hfea.gov.uk/docs/SEEDReport05.pdf)
7. HFEA paper 528 (see note 3), para 10.14. The HFEA has not been able to cite any donors calling for more compensation as the reason for launching this consultation.
8. In Spain the most usual profile of donors is a university student, between 20 and 25 years old, and, also immigrant women, mainly coming from Eastern Europe. Some of these donors are invited to undergo up to four ovarian stimulation cycles in a year, which is very dangerous (http://www.elpais.com/articulo/salud/Donacion/ovulos/elpsalpor/20060328elpepisal_4/Tes). Another indicator of donor motivation there is that, as in the USA, where donors can receive $50,000 for eggs if they are ‘genetically superior’ (high SAT scores, athletic and attractive), there was a sharp rise in women offering to donate when the financial crisis hit in 2008 (http://www.elpais.com/articulo/Comunidad/Valenciana/crisis/dispara/donaciones/ovulos/elpepuespval/20081205elpval_1/Tes). HGA has English translations of these articles.
9. Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust, which campaigns to recruit donors, recently stated at a meeting of the Progress Education Trust (Paying egg donors: a child at any price? October 20 2010) that more donors could be recruited if the Government, which funds the Trust, were to make more money available for their campaigns.