Feb 21 2007
According to the fertility regulator in the UK women there will soon be able to donate their eggs for medical research.
The fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said it would extend permission for egg donation for research to women who are not already undergoing fertility treatment.
In the past donations have only been sanctioned for eggs produced through fertility treatment or a gynaecological procedure such as sterilisation and researchers wanting to obtain eggs from women had to apply for a licence from the HFEA.
HFEA Chief Executive Angela McNab says as the medical risks for donating for research are no higher than for treatment, they have concluded that a woman is entitled to a choice on how her donated eggs should be used.
McNab says permission would be granted as long as strong safeguards are in place to ensure the women are properly informed of the risks of the procedure and are adequately protected from coercion.
Women will also be allowed to donate through egg-sharing schemes, where they will receive cut-price fertility treatment (IVF) in return for handing over eggs to stem cell researchers.
The egg donors will not be paid other than for expenses and sperm donors will receive 250 pounds.
Such donated eggs could be used for research into the causes of infertility and also facilitate research in regenerative medicine such as motor neurone disease and Parkinson's disease.
The British Fertility Society (BFS) has voiced concern over fertility patients donating eggs for research and say egg donation for medical research should be decided through individual and fully informed choice, with no coercion and within a rigorously regulated environment.
The Human Genetics Alert (HGA), a secular independent group, say the decision would endanger women's health as the risks involved in egg donation are not justified for just basic research, with no direct benefit to the volunteer.
The process for egg donation for research is the same as for IVF, and involves women taking hormones that boost egg production, this has a risk of ovarian hyperstimulation, which can lead to kidney damage and even death.
However the HFEA also concedes that the majority of such cases are mild and the risks were "easily managed".
Earlier this year, a team at the Centre for Life in Newcastle was awarded a temporary licence to offer discounted IVF treatment if patients donate eggs for research.
The centre was also given the UK's first licence to begin recruiting women donors who are not already having medical treatment.
The director of the Newcastle centre Professor Alison Murdoch says women are capable of making their own minds up about whether or not they donate their eggs for research and society should respect that autonomy.
Other experts say women have been donating eggs for more than 20 years, usually while undergoing sterilsation where the eggs would be used to study early embryonic development.
They say the only difference now is that women are being asked as volunteers to allow their ovaries to be stimulated to develop eggs specifically and solely for research.
Some say research using human eggs is still in its infancy, and it is premature to be encouraging women to hand over their eggs.
In order to retrieve eggs powerful hormones are used along with the insertion of a needle through the wall of the uterus.
Many say the technology used needs to be perfected before such a step is taken and some have questioned the ethics of women trading eggs for treatment.