Undercover reporters have recently uncovered that fertility clinic staff are promoting egg donation as a way for people to receive free IVF treatment.
At one fertility clinic there is also a floor-to-ceiling poster of a happy couple holding a baby. ‘No NHS funding for your fertility treatment? There is another way!’ it states in huge letters. ‘Our Egg Share Programme provides completely free IVF.’
The deal seems too good to be true. Desperate couples can often spend tens of thousands of pounds on IVF, bankrupting themselves, begging, borrowing and stealing to pay for a shot at parenthood.
But there is a catch. In return for free treatment, women have to donate half of any healthy eggs they produce to the clinic.
The donated eggs can then be used to treat another couple – who pay as much as £7,500 per cycle.
And, of course, these eggs may result in babies – genetically the children of the egg donor, but brought up by another family.
One of the nurses attempts to make a sale. ‘You just think of them as cells,’ she says, while serving apple juice, cupcakes and fondant fancies. ‘I always think it’s like donating blood, isn’t it?
‘An egg isn’t a baby. Once it clicks, most people don’t have an issue with it. It just needs to click.’
The nurse is speaking to an undercover reporter from the Mail Investigations Unit.
Two reporters have spent the past two months posing as a couple to visit clinics that offer such egg-sharing deals.
While these arrangements are legal, staff must ensure prospective donors genuinely want to give their eggs away to other couples for altruistic reasons – not just because they are tempted by free or subsidised treatment they could otherwise not afford.
IVF clinics are banned from paying egg donors outright but can offer up to £750 in compensation to make sure they are not left out of pocket.
One senior nurse says: ‘Most women find it OK because it’s not like your baby. It’s not fertilised. It grows in somebody else’s tummy.’
Egg-sharers at the clinic have one hour of counselling about the implications of other couples raising their genetic children.
But the nurse says this is ‘not a pass or fail thing’ and is ‘quite routine’. ‘Most people of course do it for the money,’ she adds.
The problem is that donating eggs can have serious consequences, including the donor not getting pregnant while the recipient has a baby with one of the shared eggs.
In addition any resulting child has a legal right to find out the identity of its biological parents at 18. The emotional implications of this are considerable especially if the women who has donated eggs fails to have a baby herself.
While some clinics source eggs through egg-sharing schemes, other rely on altruistic women who donate because they want to help couples who cannot conceive, which is of course the most ideal way to find egg donors.
The industry watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), outlines how the law means ‘the UK has a responsibility to ensure that donation is voluntary and unpaid, donors act from altruistic motives and donation is in the spirit of contributing to a wider social good’.
The regulator adds: ‘The essence of donation is the act of giving.’
Donating eggs is a wonderful gift and done for the right reasons can have positives outcomes for all involved. Women should however be aware of the risks to their own fertility and must make the decision for the right reasons.