April 18, 2024

UK may allow market in sperm donation

Proposal by new HFEA chair

The UK’s fertility watchdog is thinking of reversing its long-standing ban on allowing eggs and sperm to be sold. The new chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Professor Lisa Jardine, has told the London Times that this policy must be reconsidered to enable infertile British couples to have a child without resorting to "fertility tourism".

At the moment, IVF clinics report that there is a shortage of eggs and sperm in the UK because of a 2005 ban on anonymous donation. There is even talk of a "crisis". The current policy of the HFEA is that donors can receive up to £250 in expenses but no direct payments. So many couple go overseas to the Ukraine, India, and other countries with a lighter regulatory hand. 

"I’m not saying the decision arrived at before I became chair wasn’t the right one at the time," she told the Times. "But given the evidence that egg shortage is driving women overseas, I feel a responsibility to look at it again."

The slippery slope seems to be at work, too, as Professor Jardine says that the principle of compensation has already been established. Egg-sharing schemes, in which women are offered cheaper IVF for agreeing to give away some of their eggs, already exist.

Her proposal is being attacked from a number of angles. Dr Evan Harris, an MP who supports libertarian ethical view in reproduction, demanded that the HFEA lift the ban on anonymous donation. Philosopher Brenda Almond, on the other hand, a former HFEA member, said that compensation evoked memories of slave-trading. "Is it so different to be bartered and sold before birth rather than afterwards?" she wrote in a letter to the Times. "It is offensive to a belief in the value of human life that it has taken millennia to establish but which seems to face new threats with each new generation.

In the past, most suggestions by the HFEA for liberalising regulations have gone ahead. Given the immense pressure exerted by the IVF lobby, there seems little doubt that the regulations will change. ~ London Times, July 27