ANOTHER VIEW:The generous gift of life

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The Independent Online
"I often wonder what they would reply

those couples with their children in the street,

if I should say: 'What is it I can't buy

that you possess and got for free, complete,

something that I'd give the world to own,

and with the world to give, still could not own?' "

Roger Frith's poem on the plight of the infertile expresses in a dignified and emotive way what it is like to be barren.

Last night's BBC TV programme Here and Now on the question of payment for egg donors was sinister in its innuendo. It devalued an important continuing debate by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA). It tried to implicate one recruiting organisation (HOPE) and our centre by arranging for a "sham" couple to meet an agent of that organisation and then secretly filming the discussion with our nurse. One TV programme trailer maliciously indicated that the centre made "gifts" to prospective donors, something it has never done.

The ethics and morals of egg donation are well known to us since we pioneered this treatment in 1986 and have published repeatedly on the subject. The case is straightforward. All prospective donors are screened by medical personnel and usually see an independent counsellor. We have only ever recompensed donors with justifiable expenses, as agreed with the HFEA. We are aware that gifts/payments may occur on occasions between respective parties, although we would prefer that donations were truly altruistic. Sperm donors receive pounds 15 "expenses", and surrogate mothers surely do not carry someone else's child for nine months for pleasure.

The HFEA has been aware of the recruiting organisation for some time and has never suggested that we, or the other five centres using its donors, should cease to do so. It confirmed that payment is not illegal between private individuals. In June, we participated in an HFEA symposium on the payment of egg donors and reiterated our previously published open-minded view (Independent, 25 August 1994) for a non-profit making national body with paid counsellors, doctors and nurses to assist, recruit and monitor egg and sperm donors countrywide. We hoped more donors would then come forward, especially encouraged by advertising similar to those offering "life after death" by donating eyes, kidneys etc. Why not "life before death" for the infertile if egg and sperm donation were more widely available? For those destined to be barren, "life" as they know it is incomplete.

It is easy to criticise, to be negative, to be underhand and try to catch people out. The BBC has a lot to answer for.

The writer is director of the London Gynaecology and Fertility Centre.