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

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

See for more details.



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

See for more details.

Published September 28, 2009 Uncategorized 5 Comments Edit


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