Women could be paid up to £1,000 to donate their eggs to couples having IVF treatment, under plans being considered by the fertility watchdog. At present, egg donors are paid £15 and expenses for each sample. Payments for sperm donation could also rise to up to £50 a time.
Fertility campaigners said the proposed increase could help to address a shortage of egg donors. But critics said raising the financial ceiling is "ethically dubious" and will put pressure on poorer women to undergo the painful donation for the money. The proposals are in a consultation document from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
More than 1,700 cycles of treatment using donated eggs were done in 2001, leading to 465 births. But a lack of public awareness means there are many more infertile couples in need of samples than donors.
Doctors are believed to need 1,000 new egg donors and 200 new sperm donors each year to keep up with demand. Clinics and doctors have warned that shortages could get worse from next April, when a change in the law will allow children born through sperm or egg donation to trace biological parents.
Although sperm donation is relatively easy and painless, the process of extracting eggs is much more time-consuming. Women have to inject themselves with daily doses of fertility drugs, then undergo a procedure under general anaesthetic to extract the eggs.
Suzi Leather, chairwoman of the HFEA, said: "We have always promoted altruism in egg and sperm donation, and this consultation will not change that. We want to ensure the rules we have protect the interests of all involved, the donors, those undergoing treatment and, in particular, those born as a result of donor-assisted conception.
"The issue is at what level should the compensation be set that does not broach the principle of altruism but does recognise that donation involves commitment, effort and time and a risk for the woman."
Female donors in the United States are often paid the equivalent of several thousand pounds. Laura Spoelstra, of the National Gamete Donation Trust, said: "We do not want women to be motivated by money, but a lot of egg donors do lose financially. If women are adequately compensated, that could help to increase the numbers who come forward, but we also need more awareness of the whole need for donors."
A spokesman for the charity Life said: "Again, the HFEA is attempting to expand moral boundaries that are not theirs to stretch. The payment of men and women for sperm and eggs will only encourage a practice which is not only ethically dubious but also fraught with practical difficulties. We have a great deal of concern about the effect of this on poorer and disadvantaged women who may undergo a procedure which even Suzi Leather has admitted is not without risk."
The HFEA document is open to public consultation until 4 February next year. It can be accessed at www.hfea.gov.uk
'I DIDN'T DO IT FOR THE MONEY, BUT TO GIVE PEOPLE A CHANCE'
Rosie Braidley, 35, donated eggs after watching a friend go through several cycles of unsuccessful fertility treatment.
"I got pregnant with no problems at all and yet my friend, through no fault of her own, did not," said Mrs Braidley, from Surrey. "She has gone to hell and back with IVF treatment and it just seemed so unfair.
"After I had my son, I saw some adverts for egg donors in the National Childbirth Trust magazine and decided I would do it."
She contacted a clinic and did a battery of tests before being accepted. "I talked it over with my husband and at first he was worried about legal implications, and if in 20 years' time someone could turn up saying they were my child. But once he was reassured about that he was fine," she said.
She then had to inject herself with fertility drugs every night to boost her egg production and have scans every two days at hospital. A month later, the eggs were removed under general anaesthetic and given to two recipients. At least one became pregnant, although Mrs Braidley does not know if any children have been born as a result.
She received only her travelling expenses. "I didn't do it for the money but just to give people a chance. I don't look on it as creating a child - for me, it is like donating blood," she said.Reuse content