Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Buying eggs and sperm: should contries buy egg and sperm from one another to ensure access?

UK clinic granted permission to buy 'Russian eggs'

29 November 2010

By Nishat Hyder

Appeared in BioNews 586

A UK fertility clinic, the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health (CRGH), has received permission to import eggs from Russia, in order to meet the demand for donated eggs. Using the Russian eggs, the CRGH, which already imports sperm from Denmark, will create an egg bank for women looking to undergo fertility treatment.

To transport the eggs, Altra Vita, the Moscow based clinic from which the eggs are imported, makes use of a freezing method called vitrification, where all water is removed from the egg before it is frozen in liquid nitrogen. The clinic's website contains a catalogue of egg donors, including information such as height, weight, hair and eye colour, education, age and ethnic background.

The process is overseen by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which required assurance that the Russian donors were not paid excessively. The payment of egg donors is unlawful in the UK but donors may receive some compensation for expenses. The donors also had to agree to the possibility of their details being disclosed to their genetic children in the future, the Sunday Times reports. Children in the UK born from donated gametes have the right to trace their biological parents.

There has been a shortage of donor eggs available for fertility treatment in recent years in the UK, resulting in long waiting lists and may account for why many couples decide to go abroad to receive treatment. The situation is complex, however the lack of publicity about egg donation and comparatively poor compensation paid to donors are regularly cited as possible reasons behind the shortage of donated eggs in the UK. At present, compensation is limited to a maximum of £250 per cycle of egg donation, compared to sums in excess of £6,000 paid to donors in the United States.

The Sunday Times reports the CRGH had originally decided to import eggs from America, but withdrew these plans as donor compensation was deemed excessive. So far around ten British women have undergone fertility treatment at the CRGH using eggs donated by Russian women, the newspaper said.


  1. I think this is ethical, because the parents donating the egg to the clinic are not doing it out of financial need but are doing it for the hopes of helping people who can't have children. I also like the fact that the children are allowed to search the parents in the future. It is important to include this, because a lot of adopted children end up looking for their birth parents and this gives the Russian families a "heads up" just in case the children come searching for them one day. What I disliked about this is that the USA pays so highly for donated eggs, the money might be a coercion for the American donors, which is not ethical. Because in situation like this the donor should not be coerced by financial need to donate an egg.

  2. I think that a lot of people don't understand how lucky they are to have the ability to have children. So many women are not lucky enough to easily create a life and so these egg/sperm banks are a huge blessing for those people. Like Titilayo mentioned, it is an amazing thing that children are allowed to search for their biological parents in the future. I think that is a key characteristic and should be taken into consideration when looking at those people who are donating their own sperm/eggs. They are willing to be involved later in life with a child that has not been raised as their own, and their motives are mostly to help those less fortunate. I think the US does pay an unnecessary amount to those donors, yet the UK also doesn't pay enough. I think a compromise should be met in the middle so that more donations are made and more women can have the opportunity to be parents.

  3. Many women desire to have children of their own, however some women are unable to do so and must turn to fertility clincs and donated eggs. In my opinion there is no ethical problems underlying the donation and use of donated egggs. However, I would agree that the reasons behind donation can be qustioned and looked at further. Some people may donate eggs purely out of need for financial compensation, while others may do it for the good of helping fellow people. It is hard to tell why people donate, especially when some compensation is very fair to the women who take the time and effort to doante eggs. The United States's compensation is extremely high, where as the UK's is very low. However, the UK is stuggling to get donors while teh US is most likely not. I do believe that the US's compensation is too high, but the UK should also consider raising their compensation to get more women to donate rather than getting eggs from another country. I do not see any problems with getting the eggs from another country as long as the donors are aware that their eggs may be sent to the UK and they are aware of the UK's policy about making parental information avilable to the future children. While I like the idea that the parental information can be made available to children in the future, I also think that this can be a problem when it comes to importing eggs from another country. This is where I think it can get tricky, what if Russan women do not want their eggs sent to the UK, can they pick and choose which eggs are sent and which ones are not? If a donator does nto wish to have her information available, can she request that her eggs not be exported to the UK? Personally, I think the UK should re-evaluate its rules and regulations concerning amount of compensation and should look into advertising egg donation to increase the supply within the UK rather than having to import eggs from elsewhere.

  4. I do not think this is unethical. All these women want to do is express their procreative liberty and inherent right as women of the human race to bear and raise children. Evolutionary, it is necessary to reproduce. In terms of being a human in today's society, it is a rite. Many, if not most women want to experience the joy of having a child, and unfortunately some physically cannot. If these women in the UK are able to practice their right through IVF with Russian eggs, I do not see the problem. The Russian egg donors are not exploiting the UK women since they cannot be paid for their eggs. They also give their informed consent to disclose their genetic information to the UK women.

  5. I think that this is completely ethical. In class we discussed procreative liberty, which is the inherent freedom to procreate or avoid procreation. We also discussed the idea that reproduction and child-rearing can exist independently of one another. This case is a perfect example of this. The women provided the eggs have procreative liberty to donate their eggs and other people do not have a right to interfere in this choice. Due to the fact that reproduction is central to one's personal identity, procreative liberty must be respected. I think the donation and reception of eggs is completely ethical.

  6. Buying eggs and sperm to ensure access does not seem to violate ethical principles. By allowing one to buy eggs and sperm from the fertility clinics, we are allowing a person to utilize an autonomy that could have been compromised due to natural barriers such as infertility or the inability to find a mate. We also have to consider the genetics of the parents. What if a couple cannot procreate due to an increased risk of a genetic disorder that would cause extreme pain and suffering in their child’s life? We should not limit ones freedom to reproduce due to situations they cannot control. By not allowing access to eggs and sperm from another country, we are depriving one of the satisfying and meaningful experiences of procreation. Being deprived of this is losing the chance of connecting with nature and with future generations. I think that the UK should think less about the compensation and more about the benefits one egg or sperm can do for a family or an individual for a lifetime. Regardless of the compensation, the consequences of the donation are the fulfilling aspects that one aims at. Although, U.S compensation is high, at least we are allowing every individual their freedom to reproduce.

  7. Humans have an inherit right to procreate, regardless of which country they are from. Some women do not have the ability to procreate and thus turn to egg donors. This gives them a sense of procreation.

    There is no ethical difference if eggs are or are not donated domestically. The fact of the matter is that one human donated biologic material to another human, which ultimately grants that other human the ability to procreate. What makes this process ethically debatable is when other factors, such a money, become relevant. Paying the donors money instigates questions on the donor's motive. The act of compensation creates question as to whether the donor is being taking advantage of. Yes, ethics are raised but does it really matter? The egg is still being donated.

    The autonomy of women is respected by granting women the ability to procreate through egg donors. They have the right to choose whether they want to bear a child. And as humans, we believe the right to procreate is fundamental and one of our main purposes as a race. Therefore women whose biologic aspects prevent them from reproducing can actually fulfill one of human's main purposes through egg donations.

  8. I believe that is is ethically acceptable to be able to purchase eggs from Russia due to the shortage in the UK. It is a in a woman's nature to bear children and continue the circle of life, however some women obviously are not able to do so themselves. Current day technology provides these unfortunate women with an alternative means of having a child. The country that the egg come from, however, should not be a moral concern.

    The Russian women obviously are not forced into donating their eggs to the UK, nor are there great incentives for them to donate to the UK (compensation is fairly low). Therefore, the donors have a right to do with their eggs, and ultimately their body, as they see fit. In this situation, they are helping another family bring life into this world.

    In addition, the people in the UK are able to see who the egg comes from. The donors know that their egg may or may not be chosen because of their characteristics, and they also know that the child may be able to find out their biological parents if they want. As long as this is all part of the informed consent process, the donors seem to be fully informed of what they are agreeing to and thus no ethical boundaries are being crossed.

  9. I whole heartedly support the idea that individuals who are unable to become pregnant themselves can look to alternative methods. Procreation and becoming a parent are two huge milestones in life and I feel that everyone deserves a shot at it. As long as egg donors, as well as the women who are looking to undergo fertility treatment are fully educated on the situation, no privacy or ethical standards are breached.

    The only detail of the article that I question is the fact that there is a catalog available to prospective fertility candidates that includes egg donors’ information such as height, weight, and eye color. Is disclosing phenotype characteristics really necessary? I guess I can see the fact that many prospective parents simply want a donor who is healthy and has certain features such as hair or eye color that blend well with their families. But it concerns me when prospective parents are more selective and seek donors who fit a specific appearance and achievement level. At what point do we draw the line?

    -Maria Mannara

  10. The purchase of Russian eggs by the UK is completely ethical given that informed consent is provided on behalf of both parties, the egg donor, and egg recipient.

    In this case, it is only just that women who are incapable of reproducing are given equal opportunity to have children as those women who are fertile and can reproduce. It is then the responsibility of others who are willing to donate their gametes to someone in need. The debate over payment for this service stems from whether overcompensation may lead to coercion versus an altruistic donation of the eggs.

    In terms of the health/beneficence and autonomy of all parties, these ethical parameters are satisfied. The egg recipient can exercise their autonomy and reproductive rights to gain the ability to have a child in a clinical, careful manner. The egg donor undergoes minimal clinical risk, and exercises their autonomy by volunteering to donate their eggs with minimal coercion or benefit.

    Therefore, the benefits of this service are so great that it would outweigh any possible harms that may be unforeseen.

  11. It appears that there are at least two issues at stake in this article. One issue that I would be concerned about is the health of the woman who is donating the eggs. Are the health practices in Russia as sophisticated as they are in the UK? Are the women who are donating been tested for all possible genetic diseases. Russia has had a severe alcoholism problem, has this been taken into account? That being said if the Uk has a real shortage of donated eggs and if all things check out medically, then I would see no reason why eggs cannot be obtained from a foreign country. The second issue is the question of compensation. I feel egg donors should be amply rewarded. The UK is wrong in my opinion as far as compensation. It is an extremely painful and drawn out process to harvest eggs and those who are willing to undergo this should be well paid.

  12. I personally do not think this is an unethical argument. As long as the donors are healthy and the practices in Russia are up to the same standards as they are in the UK as well as other countries there is no reason to believe this is an unethical practice. I believe the UK is wrong for giving such little compensation to the egg donors which is contributing to the need to even go abroad for this reason. In importing the eggs women can have the comfort of receiving an egg donation in their own country and it is not extensively expensive for them to do so. All terms of beneficence, autonomy and all ethical practices are being fulfill in this instance.
    -Kelsey Petersen

  13. I think that some would argue that shipping eggs and sperm to other countries diminishes the sanctity of life. Some might feel that it is ethically wrong to view eggs and sperm as products rather than genetic entities.

    Another issue that should be taken into account is reproductive rights. If we are shipping off our eggs or sperm can we be sure that it will be used for reproductive purposes only? There is a potential risk that another country could use another person's sperm or eggs for experimentation or organ harvesting.

    I think a benefit of shipping off sperm and eggs is that it provides some with the opportunity for healthier offspring. It allows sperm and eggs from parents of impoverished countries to have, arguably, a better chance of life in a more prosperous nation.

    I think a global benefit of shipping off sperm and eggs is the potential for genetic variability and would provide an enhanced level of diversity. Studies show that populations with more genetic variability are less susceptible to genetic diseases. Thus, we ought to avoid this harm and allow the shipment of eggs and sperm.

    -Andrew Schiff

  14. I don't see an ethical issue with this. The egg donors are made fully aware that their details may be released to their biological children in the future and payment is being regulated. If there is a shortage of egg donors in the UK and people are already going abroad to receive treatment, then why not make it more accessible for those who are looking? So long as the payment method in Russia is kept under control and the amounts paid to donors do not get excessively high, then I see no ethical issue with the UK importing eggs from willing donors in other countries
    -Kathryn Papa

  15. I really appreciate the UK's method of accepting donor eggs from Russia. Unlike the United States there is no underlying excessive financial incentive for one to donate their eggs. Therefore, for the most part donation is completely voluntary. However, I do feel like there are some underlying eugenic principles within this case. People seeking eggs know the height, weight, hair and eye color, education, age and ethnic background of the egg donor. This is obviously included to cater to any preferences potential parents may have when choosing an egg. However, it also seems materialistic in the way that parents would choose the best gene pool for their child, with the possibility that these genes may not be inherited or the child turns out nothing like the donor.

  16. I believe it is ethical for eggs to be imported to meet demand for donors. All people have a right to reproduce, but unfortunately some women are physically unable to do so naturally. IVF can help these women, and as long as the eggs were obtained in an ethical manner, there is no reason that they should not be used in another country. As far as payment to egg donors, I believe that women should be compensated for their donation since the procedure is invasive and somewhat risky. In fact, while the US price may be high, the UK price seems very low. True, a high payment for donation may influence some women who are short on money to consider donating their eggs. The physicians at the donor clinic must evaluate each case, to make sure that the women who want to donate are not motivated solely by the money. The gift that egg donors give to the mothers who are unable to reproduce on their own is very important and if a country cannot meet the demand, then there is no reason why eggs cannot be imported from another country that has a surplus.

  17. I do not think it is ethically wrong to import eggs. In a country where there may be a shortage of eggs, importing eggs from other countries is vital to women who desire an egg but would otherwise have to be put on a waiting list in order to receive one. It is giving more people the ability to have children, which many people may take for granted. It is amazing that we have the knowledge and technology to allow people to have children that could not do so naturally. If a woman is willing to pay for a fertile egg then she should not be denied this right because a government deems the cost of the egg to be excessive. It seems rather unethical for the CRGH to be able to deny the importation of eggs from a country because that country pays their donors too much money. For example the CRGH originally decided to allow imported eggs from America but later withdrew these plans because they believed that the donor compensation was too high.

    Erica Jordan

  18. As stated in the article, this is a very complex issue with politics playing a major role. In deeming the purchase of eggs by one country from another to increase access comes down I believe ethically to consent. I believe this purchasing is completely ethical because the foreign donors are agreeing to the disclosure of their background information to their possible biological children. If this consent was not asked for, then I would consider this practice unethical, but since the details regarding children born in Britain having the right to trace their biological parents are being divulged to the foreign donors, I see nothing ethical wrong with it. The area where this could become unethical is if Britain was to profit monetarily from it because they are receiving eggs that were donated from Russia for likely smaller sums of money. The argument can be raised that every new citizen born is profitable for his or her home country, and that Britain is then profiting in the long term from these purchases. Nevertheless, these eggs are now a marketable commodity; and Britain exploiting the egg market for their monetary interests cannot be deemed unethical.

  19. I do not see an unethical practice here. This is just simply an example of women exercising their autonomy. The donaters have the right to do whatever they wish to do with their eggs. Those purchasing eggs are exercising their right to reproduce. Additionally, when it comes to personal information, consent should be given and the donators should have the choice as to whether or not they would like to be contacted by children born from their eggs. Furthermore, ample compensation should be given to those donating. Egg harvesting is not only painful for the donator, but also highly lucrative for the facilities and organizations selling the eggs.

    --Kelsey Howarth

  20. Many couples are unable to have children of their own for a variety of reasons - this is not to say they shouldnt be able to have or raise children of their own. Because there is a shortage of eggs for donation in other countries, couples from those countries ought to be able to receive donated eggs from others. As long as the women donating these eggs have informed consent and agree to it, there should be no issue. The process already exists in our contry, so why not extend this to others? Additionally, if the countries accepting the eggs have no intentions of using them for anything except to create a child for a family, it is ethical. Hopefully their intentions are not to benefit or profit from any research or to rear the child for benefit to their country. The idea that they are able to track down their parents comes into question. Do the women who are donating their eggs want to be tracked down? Or regardless, is it the child's right to find out who their biological parents are?

  21. Importing eggs from another nation is completely ethical, as it will provide more couples in the UK the opportunity to have children. Unfortunately many couples are unable to have children and are forced to look towards other measures. By increasing the number of eggs available, you are greatly impacting the lives of these people who are unable to have children on their own. Which country the eggs come from should not determine whether or not this is ethical.

    In this case their is not excessive compensation for eggs so these women don't have underlying reasons for donating. As long as the donors are informed that their eggs may be going to the UK and that the child will be able to contact them later on, I don't see any problems with this process.

  22. I don't think that there is an ethical dilemma in importing eggs from willing egg donors. The donors are aware that there eggs are being used abroad and are also consenting to the possibility of being contacted by their future children. The donors don't seem to be financially motivated, as compensation is noted as comparatively low. There are no violations of autonomy since the donors are making conscious, well informed decisions about where their eggs are going. For the families who will be using the eggs, beneficence is being provided in allowing these families the ability to have children, an opportunity which they otherwise would not have had since the UK is limited in their egg donors. As I'm sure specific information about the eggs are important to potential recipients of the Russian eggs, it can be further argued that there is no ethical issue here since genetic information about the egg donors is also provided.

    -Farrah Belizaire