The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, one of the arm’s length bodies condemned to obsolescence in the Government’s rationalisation proposals announced last summer, has gone out to consultation on the principal issues surrounding gamete donation.  

The consultation, set up for online completion only, seeks views on:

  • the level of compensation for egg and sperm donors;  
  • the number of families that donors should be able to help create (presently limited to ten); and  
  • donation between family members.  

The structure of the family has undergone vast change in the last decades. The percentage of births outside of marriage has risen from 11 per cent in 1979 to 46 per cent in 2009. Same sex couples and single women are increasingly seeking treatment with donor sperm. Up to 30 per cent of clients at a leading donation clinic in London are lesbian couples, an increase of 10 per cent on 10 years ago. Male gay couples are also increasingly turning to surrogacy to found their family. Many prospective parents choose donor gametes as a way of avoiding the transmission of genetic disorders to their children.  

The issue of payment to donors for the provision of gametes has been brought into sharp focus once again, indirectly, with the recent announcement of a surrogate arrival for Elton John and David Furnish, and a surrogate baby "on order" for Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban. In each of these cases, the surrogate is an American woman and there are no limits on the payment she can receive, unlike here in the UK where payment is restricted to reasonable expenses.  

Although the issue of gamete donation is not necessarily linked to that of surrogacy, both areas of assisted conception trigger the heated ethical debate of the morality of payment versus the non-commercialisation of birth. Yet there is a shortage of donor gametes in the UK. Even though rates of donation have increased, demand has simply increased at a greater rate. Waiting times for treatment in the UK now propel many couples to seek treatment abroad where the regulatory structure differs, donors can remain anonymous and no information about the donor or donor conceived siblings is available to the child conceived in the foreign clinic.

The consultation Donating sperm and eggs: have your say closes on 8 April 2011.