The authority, which regulates fertility treatment in Britain, has set up a working group to make recommendations before the end of the year.
'The issues are very complex. We are asking people how they feel about payment and about payment in kind. There is no doubt that there is an increase in demand for donated eggs,' Dr Jeannette Naish, a GP and member of the group, said.
Dr Naish said the group was looking at the relationship between donated eggs and donated organs and blood, which are freely given. 'If we consider any form of payment we must think about the difference between donating sperm and donating eggs and what is equitable.'
But despite the shortage - an estimated 2,000 women are on clinic waiting lists for up to two years - a market in human eggs is unlikely to find favour in this country. Fertility doctors are mostly opposed to payment. Egg and sperm donors can receive travel expenses and a payment of up to pounds 15.
Yesterday, the Department of Health warned couples to take careful advice before embarking on expensive treatment in the US after one clinic had placed an advertise ment in The Times offering 'immediate availability' of donor eggs. 'We can't prevent people from going abroad to get treatment. It's clearly a matter for them - but they should seek information about the clinic before they go,' the spokesman said.
The clinic, the Genetics and IVF Institute in Fairfax, Virginia, refused to give any information on its 'take- home baby' rates. It said only that it was a 'major, well-respected American centre for the treatment of infertility'.
Treatment in the clinic would cost about pounds 10,000 compared with between pounds 2,000 and pounds 4,000 in British clinics. But many women do not get pregnant at the first attempt. A recent survey of US fertility clinics showed that six attempts at IVF (in vitro fertilisation) could cost up to dollars 800,000 ( pounds 516,000) for the most difficult cases. The comparative figure for the UK would be about pounds 14,000.
In Britain some clinics have offered inducements, including earlier sterilisation or reduced fees for fertility treatment, to women who agree to donate eggs or embryos.
Stephen Killick, director of the Hull University IVF unit, said: 'We are dealing with desperate couples who will grab at any straw. There is great anxiety about commerc ialisation in this area.'
Strict safeguards in the UK limit the age of egg donors to 35. All undergo extensive physical and genetic tests and counselling. 'Some potential donors could lie about their age or the mental health of their parents,' he said.
Dr Sam Abdalla, director of the fertility unit at the Lister Hospital, south-west London, said: 'If we wanted to increase donors it should not be by paying them.'Reuse content