Clinic defends offer of free IVF treatment: Women prepared to donate their eggs to others are being treated for free
Mr Eric Symons, clinical director of the in vitro fertilisation unit at the Cromwell hospital, south-west London, said that the ethics committees of two hospitals involved had given approval and that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority had been informed.
It is illegal in Britain to buy eggs or sperm from donors under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and criticism has been levelled at the unit for its egg-sharing programme.
There is a shortage of human eggs for those women who cannot produce their own and, at the same time, little provision on the NHS for women seeking IVF treatment. A survey showed earlier this month that there were 2,000 women waiting for donated eggs or embryos.
The specialists at the Cromwell and a unit at the Washington hospital, Tyne and Wear, have 'paired' 10 women and achieved a 30 per cent pregnancy rate in the egg sharing scheme. Two of the recipients of donated eggs are women of 48.
'This programme was aimed at helping those women who cannot afford treatment but are able to produce eggs and those who may be older and who need eggs and who can afford treatment. The younger women are likely to have blocked tubes. The recipients may be post-menopausal, but this is not necessarily to do with their age. This has been carefully thought out and we fully comply with the requirements of the Act,' he said.
'There are many women who cannot have treatment because they simply cannot afford it. On the other hand some of the older women are in two-salary households and are able to pay for treatment.' The treatment costs about pounds 2,000.
Mr Symons said that in compliance with the Act, no eggs from women over the age of 35 were accepted and the identities of the donor and the recipient were never disclosed. There was no risk of the women meeting each other, he said.
Four years ago anxieties were raised that women seeking sterilis ation, having completed their families, were being pressured into donating eggs for childless couples. Several hospitals offered free sterilisation to women prepared to donate.
Earlier this month at the launch of Needs, the National Egg and Embryo Society, women under 36 who sought sterilisation were described as ideal egg donors.
Embarrassment could be stopping many women asking their doctors for the 'morning after' pill, a consumer group said.
Dr Joe Collier, editor of the Consumers' Association magazine Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, said: 'With 170,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales every year, the rate could be greatly reduced if women knew more about the options of morning-after contraception. Women who want emergency contraception may be too embarrassed to tell a doctor's receptionist why they need to see their doctor urgently.'
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