Letter: Donor and egg conundrum

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The Independent Online
From Dr John Carroll

Sir: One thing that no one is considering in the furore over the selling of human eggs ("Agency 'trades' in women's eggs", 1 November) is how this situation could have been avoided.

The desperate shortage of eggs for treatment has compelled patient groups, clinicians and ethicists alike to devise new strategies for increasing the supply of donors. Whether or not one approves of the actions of the Hope Agency, it is understandable that patients stuck on lengthy waiting lists will resort to desperate measures. Research being conducted in Britain is aimed at developing new methods for increasing the supply of human eggs for treatment and thus avoiding the situation that hundreds of patients find themselves in.

This research involves using donated ovarian tissue as a source of immature eggs which can be developed outside the body. Scientists are already able to mature adult eggs through the final stages (36 hours) of development, an advance which is important for patients who do not have their own eggs. However, much more research is required to make this technique more efficient, to extend it to younger eggs, and to develop methods for cryopreserving (freezing) eggs, so that an egg bank can be established.

It will be some time before we can avoid being reliant on the altruistic women (whether paid or not) who go through painful and time-consuming operations to donate their eggs for the treatment of others. But with continued research we are drawing closer to that point. If society does not invest in the future, however, by recognising the importance of basic research and encouraging its continuation, patients will continue to find themselves in the desperate circumstances where they have no alternative but to pay for donated eggs.

Yours faithfully,

Juliet Tizzard

The Progress Educational


London, W1

1 November