Following an extensive public consultation this spring on the donation of sperm and eggs, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has now announced a number of decisions.

Having listened to the views of donors, recipients and those born through assisted conception, the HFEA has agreed to take a proactive approach to the recruitment, retention and care of donors by working with the IVF sector, professional bodies and voluntary organisations to raise awareness, improve the care of donors and ensure that donation continues to take place within a safe and ethical environment.

UK law currently prohibits the payment of donors (in contrast to the practice in the United States, for example, where many women put themselves through college on the funds raised by egg donation) but allows them to be compensated for expenses, for the inconvenience of donation and for loss of earnings up to £61.28 for each full day, with a limit of £250 for each course of sperm or egg donation.

The HFEA has now agreed to make changes to the compensation that donors can receive, departing from the current system of out of pocket expenses and a loss of earnings allowance, and moving to a new fixed rate scheme where sperm donors will received £35 per visit and egg donors £750 per cycle.  

The new scheme is designed to reflect the value of the donation rather than being merely an arbitrary sum. Chair of the HFEA, Professor Lisa Jardine, believes that the new figures will retain donors already in the system and boost donor recruitment without attracting those who are purely financially motivated. The notion of “selling” gametes however raises difficult ethical issues and the UK has always fought shy of embarking upon the “payment” path, in a bid to preserve the altruism and integrity of the donation. However, with the number of egg donors stagnating at around 1,200 per year, the shortage of donated eggs has induced many couples to travel abroad for treatment where, it is felt, standards are not so rigorous.  

The HFEA also considered “payment” in kind, whereby donors receive treatment services (eg: egg sharing, storage of gametes and embryos, waiting list escalation) in return for their donation. A decision was reached that this practice should be retained, although current guidance will be reviewed with a view to making the position clearer.