There was press coverage over the weekend about a UK egg donor agency which has been leafleting students at Cambridge University to try and recruit egg donors. The tabloid coverage was yawningly predictable - vulnerable young students being enticed to sell their eggs for £750 by a profit-making fertility business.
As ever, the true story behind the headlines is very different. The agency in question (Altrui) operates legally, helping parents to find egg donors in the face of donor shortages and supplementing the services otherwise exclusively provided by licensed fertility clinics. Let’s not forget that fertility clinics also profit from egg donation, and have done since the birth of IVF.
The story is, as far as the agency goes, just tabloid hot air. But what interests me is why the UK press seems to have such an aversion to students acting as egg donors. Medical students have long acted as sperm donors, and why not as egg donors too? On anyone’s measure, students at Cambridge University are a pretty bright lot, capable of understanding the risks and implications of donating eggs. The maximum allowed payment of £750 for egg donation expenses may seem attractive, but it is not much incentive once you know how much cost, time and effort is involved (the actual out of pocket costs of an egg donation cycle commonly run to this amount), and even if it is an incentive, so what? Wasn’t one of the reasons for the HFEA increasing the payment to egg donors from £250 to £750 last month to encourage more women to donate? Let’s have some honesty about this at least.
What is very important is that anyone considering egg donation fully understands the medical risks and the long term implications of helping to conceive a child who may wish to contact them in 18 years’ time. That is true for all egg donors, but where the donor is younger (which is possibly more likely with students, but not necessarily so) or more likely to be attracted by the headline payment, we have even more of a duty to take care. But no one in the UK would be allowed to donate eggs without counselling, information and clear medical advice about the risks. If students want to help others conceive having gone through this intensive preparation, why should they not make that choice?