Egg and sperm donation rules to be reviewed

A major review of the rules regarding sperm, egg and embryo donation will take place over the course of next year.

The most controversial area to be discussed concerns expenses payments made to donors.



Also on the agenda will be age limits for male and female donors, and restrictions on how many families a man can donate his sperm to.



Currently in the UK payments for sperm and egg donations can only be made to reimburse travel costs and loss of earnings.



Some other European countries interpret the rules more liberally to include compensation for "inconvenience".



Under EU law donors cannot be paid directly for their eggs and sperm, as happens in the US where people earn large sums of money helping infertile couples. An EU directive limits compensation to "making good expenses and inconveniences related to the donation".



In the UK expenses payments for donors are broadly in line with those given to jurors. There is an overall limit of £250 for each course of sperm or egg donation.



Four years ago the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates fertility services and research, decided not to allow compensation for "inconvenience". It was felt that paying "inconvenience" money might encourage people to make donations without thinking enough of the consequences.



Since then there have been calls for more flexibility to better reflect the sacrifices made by many donors.



Members of the HFEA agreed to hold the review at a meeting today.



Professor Lisa Jardine, who chairs the authority, said: "The authority had a rewarding and well informed debate across a wide range of important issues and arrived at some significant decisions. I welcome the fact that we are now beyond the implementation of the new legislation and can address issues which have implications for all of our stakeholders.



"There was a general view that the HFEA's policy with regard to reimbursement for donors, which has now been in place for two years since the introduction of the European Tissue and Cell Directive, was one that could usefully be revisited in light of what we have learned over those two years. We will not prejudge the outcome of the review that will now take place."



Other issues to be addressed include whether to change the current lower age limit for egg donation, which currently stands at 18, to take account of potential health risks.



The authority will also look at whether its upper age limit of sperm donors should be brought in line with professional guidelines. The official age limit is now 45, while the professional guidance recommends 40 or younger.



Also under discussion is the 10-family limit for sperm donors. This prevents a man donating his sperm to more than 10 families, irrespective of the number of babies that result.



Egg sharing, donations between family members, and the possibility of allowing people only to donate to certain patient groups will also be considered.

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