I shouldn’t have felt so sick and sad as experience shows that recommendations by the Executive are rarely challenged at HFEA board meetings, but the disappointment was crushing when the final decision to ‘compensate’ egg donors with £750 per cycle and sperm donors at £35 per visit was made this morning. The only dissent was from three members who felt that sperm donors were getting a raw deal and that the amount should be raised to £50. David Archard, a moral philosopher, gave me cause for hope with his concern that the sums were being presented as a ‘recognition’ of the commitment that donors have made. He believed that the way the term was used by the Nuffield Council on Bio-Ethics – ie the need for provision of ‘recognition’ in ways other than payment, was closer to the philosophical meaning. However, he seemed to have little problem with the amount being deemed compensation for expenses, loss of earnings, time and inconvenience. The use of the word ‘compensation’ in the consultation is in retrospect the clearest indication that it was always envisaged that increased sums of money were going to be paid. Although there was heartfelt denial that gamete shortages were the focus of the consultation, it was always obvious that it was shortage rather than quality of donor or offspring interest led, as the Australian Commission enquiry had been. What was shocking was the gung-ho use of the Spanish model of egg donor compensation when the regulatory and legal systems are so different. In Spain donors are completely anonymous and are unlikely ever to come into contact with the children they have helped give life to. In the UK donors need the insight and integrity to take seriously their responsibilities to donor conceived children from age 18 onwards. £750 or £35 a shot are I believe sufficient sums for hard-up students to convince themselves that they would be happy to be available in eighteen years time, or lie about it, but it is not a decision that such a young person should be taking. This is why recruitment schemes for current unpaid donors are targeted at men and women in their thirties, rather than at students.
We were given long-winded explanations about the difficulty of administering an expenses reimbursement scheme, but no evidence to support this. It may actually be true that for some donors £750 or £35 does represent an approximation of the expenses and loss of earnings due to them, but the media and public perception will be that this is payment for gametes. If donor numbers go up significantly as a result we will know that this is true. Of course I and everyone at DCN want there to be more donors available in the UK, but not at any price. No evidence was offered that increasing money available would bring them in and indeed Kamal Ahuja and the National Gamete Donation Trust gave significant evidence to the consultation that it was perfectly possible to recruit donors of integrity without payment. The Nuffield Council for Bio-Ethics reported last week that payment should be a last resort, not to be considered until ‘altruist focused action’, such as a national infrastructure of egg and sperm donation is brought about and schemes put in place for non-monetary ‘recognition’ of donors and the sharing of best practice in recruiting and retaining of donors. Why was this important report ignored, particularly when the Chair and Chief Executive had been given privileged early access to it?
Lisa Jardine’s claim that she is kept awake at night by the long-term implications of donation “stretching into generations beyond’ and the Executive team’s insistence that welfare of donors and donor conceived children was always at the heart of the consultation felt like weasel words. Why are HFEA members so spineless?