13 September 2007
Women aged 21-35 attending the Newcastle Fertility Centre (NFC) in the north of England are to be offered reduced price in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment in exchange for donating some of their oocytes (eggs) for research (see BBC news). Women who agree to donate half of the eggs harvested as part of the IVF process will receive a £1500 reduction in the price of their treatment. Researchers from the North East England Stem Cell Institute will use the donated oocytes to generate human embryonic stem cells, which will then be used for medical research.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) granted a temporary licence to the North East England Stem Cell Institute last year giving them permission to approach women requesting ‘altruistic egg donation’ (see previous news), and followed this with public consultation leading to a decision earlier this year that women should be allowed to donate their eggs for research if they wanted to (see previous news). This decision required that safeguards to prevent possible coercion of women donors be put in place, and did not permit payment of donors, although expenses of up to £250 were permissible.
NFC Head of Department Professor Alison Murdoch pointed out that egg sharing conferred no additional physical risk to the women and said: “We expect this to open the door to some infertile women who may now find it less difficult to meet the cost of IVF” (see NFC website news). However, others have expressed concern that women donors are being exploited, because women who are unable to access NHS treatment or to afford the full cost of private IVF treatment may be more likely to donate than women who can access NHS treatment, or to pay for IVF.