Inquiry on clinic egg donor deal

VIRGINIA Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, has ordered an inquiry into a clinic which offered a woman free test-tube baby treatment in return for a donation of her eggs.

Susan Burton, 34, who has four children from her first marriage, is unable to conceive naturally because of complications. She twice failed to conceive through in-vitro fertilisation on the National Health Service.

The Cromwell clinic in Tyne and Wear has offered her further treatment free of charge if she will donate half the eggs retrieved to help other infertile women.

Strict rules and guidelines control the supply of human eggs and sperm, regulated by the statutory Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. In Britain it is illegal to pay for eggs, other than pounds 15 for travelling expenses. But it is not illegal to provide free treatment for human eggs of which there is a shortage. Childless and infertile women can wait four years for treatment.

Mrs Bottomley said yesterday in a BBC Television interview: 'I shall be asking them (the authority) to look at the detail of this case. I want to be sure that undue pressure is not put on these women and any other women and if we need to tighten the rules, that will happen. It may be that the authority itself believes there are steps they could take but I need to have action.'