More on Cash for Eggs

Posted by Pete Shanks on October 13th, 2011

worried woman

The UK Nuffield Council on Bioethics has completed its 18-month consultation about the provision of human bodily material for medicine and for research, specifically including the issue of payment for gametes. The full report is a 272-page, 3.5MB PDF linked here, where there are also shorter summaries.

It is certainly possible that last week's publicity push for egg sales anticipated this publication. It is probably not a coincidence that last month's issue of the American Journal of Bioethics was devoted to the issue (and featured one of the Nature authors). However, the Nuffield working group downplayed gametes, focusing its press release on a proposal that the National Health Service pay for the funerals of organ donors.

The Report is a serious examination of the issues and deserves careful attention. It does suggest that the British cap on expenses for egg and sperm donors (currently £250, about $400) be lifted and actual expenses allowed, including loss of earnings. It also suggests, without specifying a number, that payment be allowed for women donating eggs for research, and that such women be considered "research participants, with all the associated protections (6.81)." They propose, without details, setting up a pilot scheme.

The mainstream press largely led with the funerals, which drew some criticism as "an odd reward" (Art Caplan) that may make people nervous, "macabre" (John Harris, who prefers cash), and possibly a distraction that won't make much difference (Kevin Gunning, a UK hospital consultant; audio here). Most of the reports followed up with some discussion of egg sales [BBC, Reuters, New Scientist], but both Nature News and Science Insider focused their pieces on women's eggs.

Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust, told BioNews that:

"Compensation for loss of earnings needs to be variable in order to reflect the fact that loss of earnings themselves vary depending upon the different circumstances in which people find themselves."

Which sounds sensible, until you consider the consequences in practice. There is already a stratified market for eggs, both by region and by characteristics. Researchers want a lot of eggs and frankly care less than the fertility industry does about the superficial physical characteristics of the suppliers, beyond basic health. But isn't there something odd about the idea that an heiress who doesn't need the cash can get a large payment because her time is worth so much, but poor women can only get minimum wage?

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Posted in Assisted Reproduction, Egg Retrieval, Pete Shanks's Blog Posts, Research Cloning, Stem Cell Research, The United Kingdom


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