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No2Eggsploitation and Human Genetics Alert

Media release

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 no2eggsploitation@riseup.net, 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)

4. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article6728391.ece

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.

 

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Lecture on feminist debates on egg-donation

No2Eggsploitation will be holding an informal meeting after this lecture, all are welcome to attend.

‘It’s my body and I’ll do what I Like with it’ Bodies as possessions and objects
Anne Phillips, Professor of Gender and Political Theory, LSE

A Gender Institute and Department of Government Public Lecture

* Wednesday 29 September, 2010
* 6.30pm
* Old Theatre, Old Building, LSE
* Chair: Professor Emily Jackson, Department of Law, LSE
* Open to all – no booking required. Followed by an informal drinks
reception at the Gender Institute, 5th Floor, Columbia House.

Click here for more details:
http://www2.lse.ac.uk/genderInstitute/events/eventsProfiles/bodiesAsPossessions.aspx

Abstract
We commonly use the language of body ownership as a way of claiming personal rights, though we do not normally mean it literally. Most people feel uneasy about markets in sexual or reproductive services, and though there is a substantial global trade in body tissues, the illicit trade in live human organs is widely condemned. But what, if any, is the problem with treating bodies as resources and/or possessions? Is there something about the body that makes it particularly inappropriate to apply to it the language of property, commodities, and things? Or is thinking the body special a kind of sentimentalism that blocks clear thinking about matters such as prostitution, surrogate motherhood, or the sale of spare kidneys?

The related question is whether there is something about feminism that makes it particularly resistant to the body as property. The critique of
objectification suggests there is, but there is also an influential strand
that defends the commodification of sexual and reproductive services and
queries the idea of the body as special. In this lecture, Anne Phillips defends the idea that the body is special, but argues that debates about body ownership are best understood as debates about market relations, not
simply claims about the body per se.

For speaker biographies and a list of all forthcoming Gender Institute
events, visit
http://www2.lse.ac.uk/genderInstitute/events/eventsSchedule10.aspx

For information on how to get to LSE, accessibility maps and how to get
around campus, please visit
http://www2.lse.ac.uk/mapsAndDirections/Home.aspx

The Gender Institute (LSE) was established in 1993 and brings together
social sciences and humanities approaches in order to address key problems
in gender studies transnationally. We provide a leading role internationally
in combining innovative theory and epistemology with policy concerns. We
provide a vibrant research environment and train the largest number of
postgraduates qualifying in Gender Studies anywhere in Europe.

IVF doctors criticise payment for egg-donation

Dr Kamal Ahuja and Dr Eric Simons of the London Women’s Clinic are to be congratulated on being the first IVF doctors we are aware of to openly oppose the HFEA’s proposals on payment for egg donors.  The doctors argue that, ‘”compensation” is payment in all but name, appears to abandon any notion of altruism as the motivation and is a long way from the spirit of blood donation, to which the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) idealistically compared egg donation a decade ago’, and describe the HFEA’s plans as ‘naive and coercive’.

They are also right to point out that, ‘Egg donation requires a complex medical procedure whose long and short-term risks in volunteer egg donors have never been evaluated. Thus, despite the accumulation of almost 20 years of IVF data on volunteer donors, the HFEA is proposing compensation for a risk whose extent and gravity remain unknown.’  That is precisely why women are who may be desperate for money should not have financial carrots dangled in front of them, in order to induce them to take the risks, just so that another woman will have a shorter wait for an egg.

No2Eggsploitation hopes that their intervention will mark the start of a positive trend in the debate.

ACTION ALERT: NO TO EGGSPLOITATION!

ACTION ALERT: NO TO EGGSPLOITATION!

Protect Women From Risks Of Egg Donation!

 In July, Lisa Jardine, Chair of the Human Fertilization And Embryology Authority, announced that the HFEA is likely to rescind the longstanding ban on paying women to donate their eggs to others, for fertility treatment.

 We are campaigning against this because:

  •  Egg donation carries serious health risks – in every country where there is a financial incentive to donate eggs, poor women are induced to take those risks, whilst middle-class women who can afford the fees, and the IVF industry, benefit.
  • Turning human body parts into commodities is unethical and will eventually lead to a market in kidneys and other organs.

The HFEA will decide in December whether to even bother consulting the public on this issue – feminists must speak out now to prevent this encroachment of the free market on women’s bodies.

 To lend your support to this campaign contact: no2eggsploitation@riseup.net

We have had a successful launch meeting, and are discussing ways to take the campaign forward – your input is needed! 

See www.no2eggsploitation.wordpress.com for more details.

 

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Background

The Risks of Egg Donation

In order to donate eggs, women have to undergo the hormonal treatments which are part of the standard IVF procedure.

Amongst the risks of IVF hormonal treatment are:

  • Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which affects up to 10% of women. Given the number of eggs involved, it is almost inevitable that some women will suffer OHSS. In 2005, a woman died in London from complications of OHSS;
  • still uncertain long-term increased risks of ovarian cancer;
  • stress and mood swings during the process.

 In addition to the hormonal risks, eggs are collected by laparoscopy, which, although it is only minor surgery, nonetheless carries some risks.

 These risks are widely acknowledged, although there has been a consistent tendency of the HFEA to try to minimise them. They are the reason why relatively few women offer to donate eggs for others, and this has led to a severe shortage of donor eggs in Britain (see below).

 The Case Against Payment for Egg Donation

 There are two main reasons why payment for egg donation has always been resisted in the UK.

 Firstly, offering financial incentives to do something that very few women are currently offering to do because of the risks, will lead to poor women (and eg. students looking to fund college expenses), being exposed to risks, whilst only middle-class women who can afford the fees and the IVF industry will benefit. This has already happened in countries such as the USA, where there is a market in eggs. In Eastern Europe, there have already been a number of scandals in which women have died or been hospitalised after hormone treatment, in order to donate eggs to Western European ‘fertility tourists’. In fact, it is the severity of this problem that the HFEA is exploiting to argue that paid egg donation should be allowed in Britain (see below).

The second reason for not allowing paid egg donation is that it turns human body parts into commodities, which can be traded by the fertility industry. The traditional view is that human body parts have a special ethical status, which should not be reduced to that of commodities. If payment for egg donation is allowed, it will be impossible to prevent the development of a market in other human body parts, such as kidneys.  In the USA, a eugenic market in eggs now operates, with eggs from women at Ivy League Universities attracting as much as $10,000 per egg, whereas poor women receive much lower prices.

The HFEA’s dishonest arguments

 Lisa Jardine the new Chair of the HFEA recently told The Times (www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article6728391.ece) that paid egg donation in Britain was needed to reduce fertility tourism (presumably because of the risks to women in countries where the fertility industry is not regulated).  However, even in its own terms, the measure would probably be unsuccessful – Eastern Europe and Third World countries will always be able to offer cheaper eggs.

 But the HFEA’s supposed concern about reproductive tourism is no more than pretext. It might have some credibility if the HFEA or the British Government had ever made the slightest effort to discourage fertility tourism or to impose regulation of the industry in Eastern Europe, by arguing for an EU-wide regulatory system. In reality, the HFEA has, just like the Financial Services Authority over the past few years, become increasingly captured by a libertarian, pro-free-market philosophy, which fits perfectly with the business interests of the fertility industry, whose fees it depends on. Rather than acting as regulator, it increasingly takes the initiative in cheerleading for every new application of reproductive technology, and for the constant erosion of established ethical principles. In 2006, it took the first step by allowing ‘expenses’ of £250; now it is using the reproductive tourism problem (which it has never done anything to combat) to create a wedge for eventual full liberalisation of ‘reproductive services’, such as surrogacy and a market in organs. But if, only three years ago, its full public review of the issue decided against payment for egg donation, why change that decision now?

 The argument that a ‘regulated’ market in Britain is better than fertility tourism is fundamentally bad and dishonest. Since when is it acceptable to argue that: “Here is a bad thing which we have always opposed, but since people are going abroad to do it, we might as well cave in and let it happen here”? In order to combat sex tourism to Thailand, shall we set up regulated brothels in Britain for underage girls? Since British couples are now going to India for sex selection to make sure of having baby boys, why not overturn the UK ban on sex selection, too?  Britain would do better to uphold its ethical principles.

 Rather than submitting women to the risks of egg donation, we need to address the social and environmental causes of the infertility epidemic. Where women need egg donation, we need to find safe and ethical alternatives that do not commercialise reproduction.

Speak now while you have the chance.

 

The HFEA has shown its contempt for public opinion by the way it is dealing with this issue. Rather than raising the issue as a question, Lisa Jardine has simply stated her support for commercial egg donation. And the HFEA website (http://www.hfea.gov.uk/3644.html) says it will listen first to the voices of industry, patients and donors, before deciding in December whether to even bother consulting the public. Feminists need to make a lot of noise NOW if there is to be any chance of preventing the hardening of consensus.

Sadly, the feminist movement in Britain has historically failed to campaign on these issues, leaving an open field, for, of all people, the pro-life lobby to carry the banner of protection of women and against commercialisation of reproduction. It is time that this absurd situation changed.

 

To lend your support to this campaign contact: no2eggsploitation@riseup.net.  We have had a successful launch meeting, and are discussing ways to take the campaign forward – your input is needed!.  

See www.no2eggsploitation.wordpress.com for more details.