On Sunday night the Guardian announced ‘Egg and sperm donors may get £1,000s in fertility plan’, which then edited to read ‘Egg and sperm donors may get thousands of pounds in fertility plan – Significant shift in policy aims to stop more childless couples seeking treatment abroad’. The article appears in the Life & Style section of the Guardian, under the theme of Fertility Problems, and it is published coincidentally with ‘Destination Spain: the rise and rise of fertility tourism– UK’s waiting list for donors pushes couples abroad, where thanks to payments for donations there is no shortage’. Both articles are written by Denis Campbell, Health correspondent. It is only in the middle of the article that egg donation for research rather that IVF comes into the discussion – and then vanishes again – clearly Denis has not understood or does not want us to understand the difference between eggs harvested for IVF and eggs for research (embryonic stem cell – cloning). Oops, Denis!
The article quotes:
‘Dr Tony Rutherford, chair of the British Fertility Society, which represents doctors in NHS and private clinics, said the £250 limit was too low to lure donors, but warned that allowing compensation to rise to several thousand pounds would see altruism lost in a rush for cash .
“The principle of paying women to donate eggs for research is established in the UK, with approximately £1,500 being given per cycle. The issue here is that you are potentially straying into territory where the financial inducement becomes the principal reason for donation. You are then accepting that it is morally and ethically right to ‘sell’ gametes, and if that is the case, why put an artificial limit on the price and [instead] pay the going rate?” said Rutherford, a fertility doctor in Leeds’ [my emphasis].
Interestingly Josephine Quintavalle and Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE), are characterised ‘a socially conservative campaign group’ – which potentially puts off readers from actually reading their argument. CORE is indeed pro-life (‘Absolute respect for the human embryo is a principal tenet’), but their arguments against remuneration of eggs focus mainly on the risks for women’s health – in their words ‘exploring women’s rights and welfare in the field of oocyte harvesting and trading’. If women’s rights and welfare is defined conservative, what exactly is progressive?
Surely Denis, you could do better than this for the sake of public engagement – that is, if this is the aim of an article about the HFEA moves – even before the opening of consultation. And no mention about the HFEA consultation – to begin in January 2011 for three months, with the results of the consultation made available in May 2011. As if these changes have already been done, all issues resolved (ethical, social etc) and Denis is breaking the ‘good’ news to us. Or mention that this article echoes the announcement of a Review process by the HFEA, on the 23rd of August. As I read at the HFEA statement :
‘The Authority welcomes current interest in the issue of how to tackle the shortage of sperm and eggs donated for IVF treatment in the UK. It is important that policy in this area – that is of so much concern to so many – is informed by as a wide a range of views as possible‘ [my emphasis].
Debate – public consultation – transparency – civil engagement? Oh, and as for the HFEA stating shortage of sperm…really?
For a comprehensive introduction to the debates around human egg trade/ donation for IVF and research from different critical feminist and social justice perspectives:
As an ending note to this post, I am publishing artwork from the FleshMachine publication of The Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) which I think illustrates the ‘thousands of pounds’ prematurely celebratory howl of the Guardian article.
(CAE) is a collective of five tactical media practitioners of various specializations including computer graphics and web design, film/video, photography, text art, book art, and performance.
Formed in 1987, CAE’s focus has been on the exploration of the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism. The group has exhibited and performed at diverse venues internationally, ranging from the street, to the museum, to the internet. Museum exhibitions include the Whitney Museum and The New Museum in NYC; The Corcoran Museum in Washington D.C.; The ICA, London; The MCA, Chicago; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; and The London Museum of Natural History.
The collective has written 6 books, and its writings have been translated into 18 languages. Its book projects include: The Electronic Disturbance (1994), Electronic Civil Disobedience & Other Unpopular Ideas (1996), Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, Eugenic Consciousness (1998), Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media (2001), Molecular Invasion (2002), and Marching Plague (2006).