Is it About the Money? UK Reviews Donor Compensation Policies

February 1st, 2011

Lots of talk last week about the UK’s HFEA reviewing policies around egg and sperm donation. Right now, the UK doesn’t allow adequate compensation (egg donors can receive up to a couple hundred pounds in expenses under the current law), and intended families have to wait for “altruistic” donations. To no one’s surprise, there is a significant shortage of donated eggs available and many Brits are forced to seek cross-border reproductive services, which means traveling outside the country to build their families. As part of this review, the HFEA is surveying the public about their thoughts on things like donation of eggs and sperm within families, number of families any single donor should be allowed to help create, and of course, donor compensation.

The way the stories are written, donor compensation is sort of an afterthought. In fact, many experts attribute the shortage to a 2005 law that removed a donor’s right to anonymity. I suspect that the survey results will surprise them, if that’s really what they believe. As the process of egg donation has evolved, and along with it the public's progressive acceptance of the issue, I am not so sure I continue to subscribe to the idea that removing the anonymity barrier causes a significant drop in applicants. I think more and more potential donors are comfortable with the idea of some kind of future contact based on the premise that it's more to settle basic curiosity and provide medical/genetic information for offspring, and not to build long-term emotional connections. In fact, we’re seeing more and more donors even willing to meet recipients during the process.

Here in the U.S., as the times have progressed, we have now passed the threshold of a shortage. There are many informed, educated women willing to participate on many different levels of openness and disclosure. The point being made by the authors of the articles that the shortage is based on the laws that require openness is simply not valid based on my experience running an egg donation agency for the last 15 years. If I am correct, then (again) it boils down to lack of compensation.

I also find it curious on some level that the questionnaires being sent out appear to be an attempt to get to the bottom of people's attitudes on the matter and then, oh yeah, what about compensation? If this issue is truly about philosophical and moral attitudes around the families being created in this manner, what difference does it make if compensation is involved? It seems pretty clear to me that these are two separate issues. What are your thoughts?