Doctors approve 'egg donor cards': The BMA annual conference: support for women to allow use of ovaries in fertility treatment after death

WOMEN and teenagers should be able to donate their eggs or ovaries after death but must carry special donor cards which prove they have given explicit consent, doctors agreed yesterday.

The new policy was set by doctors at the annual meeting of the British Medical Association in Birmingham, and should influence recommendations expected at the end of this month on the controversial subject. The meeting agreed that salvaging ovaries of young women who have died was ethically acceptable and donor cards should be introduced.

But the doctors strongly oppose the idea that ovarian tissue from a foetus should be used for the treatment of infertility - producing a child whose biological mother would not herself have had an independent life.

Next week, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will close its six-month consultation on a document on the use of human ovarian tissue in fertility treatment and research. It is expected to make its recommendations to government shortly afterwards. They will include advice on the use of foetal and cadaver tissue.

Early in the year a major debate arose when it was disclosed that it will be possible to use ovarian tissue from aborted female foetuses to help infertile women become mothers. This technique is possible in mice and could be used in women in about five years.

The BMA is in favour of only using foetal tissue for research, at this stage. Dr Stuart Horner, chairman of the BMA Ethics Committee, said there was no reason why provision for women to donate eggs after death should not extend to girls.

'We believe it could apply to any girl of any age who in a doctor's judgement has made a competent decision.' That would include 'most 15-year-olds, a few 14- year-olds and the odd 12- or 13-year old,' he said. 'We say an individual must give consent in her own right.'

Dr Horner added: 'I honestly find it difficult in ethical terms to find a difference between cadaver and live donors. But it is quite clear inside and outside the profession that the use of foetal material is another matter.'

During the debate on these issues yesterday Dr David Brownridge, a Midlands GP, told how his wife Elizabeth, at the age of 40, had discovered that she was adopted. 'She recently completed the intriguing process of tracking down her natural parents,' he said. It had been an experience of great pleasure and anxiety.

'I can only begin to imagine the horror of being told by a person that your mother was an aborted foetus, you will never find her, she was destroyed years ago,' Dr Brownridge said.

Yesterday on BBC Radio, Baroness Warnock, whose report in the 1980s raised the first British debate on the issues, said that she believed it was too soon to consider fertility treatments using the ovaries of women who had died.

Lady Warnock said that the donation of eggs was implicitly different from the donation of kidneys. 'I'm very uneasy at the moment over the use of these eggs for implanting to produce a new child as a remedy for infertility.' She said that more time should be given to debate the issues arising from the proposition.

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