It has conceded that payments to sperm and egg donors will continue, although "serious consideration" is being given to the idea of a national donor service to raise awareness and recruit donors. The authority had considered phasing out egg sharing altogether after a woman trying for a baby learnt that another patient had been successful using one of her donated eggs.
In egg sharing, a donor agrees to allow some of her eggs to be given to others in exchange for a free attempt at IVF. The authority has said it would like more women to give eggs, but without a financial incentive. But the authority concluded it would not be right to ban paid egg sharing, "which can be enormously beneficial to both sharer and receiver.
"We were influenced by the argument that egg sharers are not motivated by money but by the desire for a baby," said Ruth Deech, the chairman. "It is clear, however, that such egg sharing needs to be closely controlled and regulated, and we will be working on producing specific guidelines on this for our Code of Practice."
Among other issues, this will look at consent, the information given to potential sharers and the choices they have when a limited numbers of eggs has been collected.
Ms Deech said that, while they believed that sperm and egg donation should be "a gift, freely and voluntarily given", it had become clear that the removal of payments (pounds 15 per donation plus expenses) "would seriously jeopardise the supply of sperm donors. "We know also that sperm donors are advertised on the Internet and there is an emerging international trade in gametes," Ms Deech said. "We therefore feel it is important that the supply of safe, screened sperm in the UK remains adequate."
Dr Kamal Ahuja, scientific director of the Cromwell Hospital in London, the largest egg sharing centre in the world, welcomed the decision. "I'm very relieved on behalf of the patients, for both donors and recipients," he said. "I'm also pleased they are going to regulate it and it will not become a free-for-all."
There are already strict guidelines at the Cromwell Hospital. "We would like to work in close conjunction with the HFEA to put guidelines together," said Dr Ahuja.
In the medical journal Human Reproduction last month Dr Ahuja, with Professor Robert Edwards, whose work led to the birth of the first test-tube baby 20 years ago, and the obstetrician Professor Ian Cooke argued passionately that egg sharing should continue.
They said the only alternative to egg sharing was relying on women coming forward voluntarily to donate eggs. As that involved exposing them to fertility drugs to stimulate ovulation without any benefit, they believed it could not be justified.
Professor Cooke said yesterday he was pleased by the decision. "This is taking the commonsensical approach."
But Susan Rice, chief executive of Issue, the National Fertility Association, said that while she welcomed more regulation, she feared egg sharing was an "emotional time bomb. We are very concerned about what is going to happen about women who have shared eggs and not got pregnant," she said.Reuse content