Payments to Egg Providers in the UK to Rise

Here’s some news from the Guardian (UK):  The HFEA (that’s the UK fertility regulator) is going to revise its rules governing egg and sperm donation.   (A word about terminology:  “donation” is the word used in the paper and in the HFEA materials, but I try to use “provider.”   I think it is at best confusing to call people who are paid to provide materials “donors,” although I know this is a common practice.)  Current practice allows for compensation of 250 pounds (which I think is under $800.)   The proposal is to raise that sum to “several thousand pounds.” 

The purpose of this increase is to increase the number of egg providers.   I’ve written in the past about the sperm shortage in the UK and how the statistics puzzle me.   Puzzling or not, there is a similar problem with a shortage of eggs.   Increasing the money paid to egg providers will surely increase the number of egg providers–that’s the simplest equation of market economics. 

The prospect of rising compensation for egg providers has raised some concerns.   I’ve discussed most of these before but it’s still worth having a look at them.  

Initially, the article says (rather vaguely), that “experts have warned the move would see women donating eggs purely for money.”   The implication here is that when you pay women less they don’t do it purely for the money–some altruistic impulse must also be at work.    Further, it’s clear that the experts think that being at least partly motivated by altruism is somehow better. 

I’m inclined to think that most donors at all levels of payment have mixed motives–including financial gain and some degree of altruism–though the mix doubtless varies.  But even if I am wrong and the experts are right, what does this matter?    Why is it better that at least part of the motive be altruistic?  

Later in the article, Dr. Tony Rutherford, chair of the British Fertility Society elaborates on this concern.   He’s quoted as saying: 

The issue here is that you are potentially straying into territory where financial inducement becomes the principal reason for donation.   You are then accepting that it is morally and ethically right to “sell” gametes, and if that is the case, why put an artificial limit on the price and [instead] pay the going rate?  

I’m having trouble with the first step in his logic.   If financial inducement is a reason (but not the principle reason) for providing gametes, does this allow us to avoid the moral question?   How?    I understand that egg provider agreements are typically structured so that the compensation is for the time/trouble the providers endure rather than for the gametes, and that some take comfort from this distinction.   But if this logic is satisfying to you, won’t it work just as well at the higher level of compensation?  

I agree there is a moral question here.  I think it is one we ought to face.   Is it okay to buy/sell gametes?   Even if the egg providers are not seen as selling the gametes, the fertility clinics surely are understood to be doing that, aren’t they?  And if the clinics can sell eggs and sperm, why shouldn’t the actual providers be allowed to do the same?


4 responses to “Payments to Egg Providers in the UK to Rise

  1. I agree Julie. To me, this is all about the money. If you pay someone enough, they will sell you their gametes whether egg or sperm. Is it right or moral to take money for gametes when you know kids will be produced from them? Is it in essence baby trafficking? Instead of making babies the old fashioned way, I can go out and buy an egg, have it fertilized from a sperm provider, and then have the embryo implanted into a surrogate….and bingo, I am a parent without having done anything other than buying all the material and renting a womb. Yep, that was a well intentioned and conceived child who has a bio mom and dad as well as a birth mother and me as a parent who probably will never have to adopt the child depending on where the child was born. Seems to me like a lot is missing in this scenario……but I am thinking it happens more than I probably realize. Morally, I somehow find it unnatural.

    • There’s an earlier discussion on the market for eggs that covers some of this. If selling gametes is the moral equivalent of selling babies, then I agree it must be wrong. But the question is whether it is.

      Purely on an intuitive level it must seem different to many people, as it does to me. I say this because most people will reply quickly that selling babies is wrong and many of those same people (not all, of course) will say selling sperm/eggs is okay. So some unarticulated distinction is being drawn. My project is to articulate it.

      You can read the other discussion on the blog, but in an nutshell, I think that if providing the sperm is what makes you the father of a child then selling sperm is akin to selling your parental rights which amounts to selling the child. But if providing sperm does not make you a father then the questions about the appropriateness of the sale come down to ones like purchase/sale of blood, hair or organs. You get away from the child-selling problem.

      More difficult for me is the role that individual preferences play in setting prices for gametes. I’m sorry to say that you see the same thing in adoption. I haven’t figured out what to do about this.

  2. I have a meta question about this.

    Why is a government agency adjusted its regulations specifically with the goal to increase egg donors? What does it matter to them if their will be fewer donors?

    • Why, indeed? This is actually the topic of today’s post (which I haven’t written yet), but I’ll tip my hand. There are several reasons, of course, but the one that most interests me is this: If there aren’t enough eggs in the UK then UK couples go elsewhere to get what they need. Or at least, the ones with money do. That can lead to other problems.

      More on this later today.

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