Following on from a new stem cell paper for which the researchers obtained large numbers of human oocytes (egg cells) by paying donors (see previous news), the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has said that women donors should be paid in the UK too.
In fact the US payments are limited to financial compensation for expenses, and practice varies across the country, but sums can amount to several thousand dollars (see previous news). The Nuffield Council report suggests a level of hundreds rather than thousands of pounds, but say that women ‘who donate eggs for research, like healthy volunteers in clinical trials, undergo medical procedures that involve discomfort, inconvenience and potential risks to their health, in order to contribute to the common good of research’ and deserve compensation.
They also note that donating eggs for research may be less compelling as an altruistic gesture than donating them to infertile women attempting to become pregnant, since the benefits are less immediate. Women donating eggs can also receive discounted fertility treatments of their own, which amounts to thousands of pounds of value.
The report therefore proposes a pilot scheme to try out their proposals, with suitable safeguards to protect donors and associated research on the long-term effects of egg donation.
Comment: The ethics of egg donation are certainly very complex – there is a need to be fair to women who chose to donate for different reasons, and stem cell researchers are keen to see improved supplies of egg cells. However, if women genuinely feel happier about donating eggs to directly help others have children than for research, financial incentives may have little effect – except for those in financial need, in which case there is a danger of compulsion.