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Philippa Taylor

Exposing the dark side of egg ‘donation’: the headlines this week should be just the start

Philippa Taylor is Head of Public Policy at CMF. She has an MA in Bioethics from St Mary’s University College and a background in policy work on bioethics and family issues.


The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

At last! The media has finally picked up on the ethical and exploitative mess that is egg ‘donation’.

I have blogged on this, included it in submissions, asked questions in conferences and, most recently, raised it when giving oral evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee in April. The aim being to expose the industry around egg ‘donation’ and egg freezing that exploits women’s health and purses.

Now, thanks to the Daily Mail’s front page undercover investigation, the Humn Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has said they are investigating several fertility clinics accused of exploiting couples desperate to have children. Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt says the allegations are serious and worrying.

 The major allegation against the fertility clinics visited by undercover journalists was that women were being convinced to donate their healthy eggs in return for free IVF, at clinics in London, Hertfordshire and County Durham.

But this is not just a story for journalists.

I personally know of a woman who was persuaded a few years ago to ‘donate’ half of her eggs for someone else’s fertility treatment, in order to have reduced cost IVF for herself and partner. Not only was she hospitalised by the procedure, years later, she is still highly traumatised having been unsuccessful in her own IVF treatment but knowing that her ‘donated’ eggs resulted in a successful birth for another woman.

Somewhere, she knows, she has a daughter, who she will never know.

This is real life. This is the dark side behind the industry. This woman has never had any longer-term practical or emotional help or support from the fertility clinic. She is on her own, literally (with no child), collateral damage from an industry that does not seem to care for the women it is exploiting.

Of course it could be argued that the other woman, who had a child from one of the donated eggs, has benefited. But has she? Has her husband/partner? What effect will it have on the child who will never know his/her biological mother?

Anecdotally, we know anonymous gamete donation can cause a lifetime of harm. The lessons to be learnt from adopted children are that they frequently feel a deep sense of loss if they don’t know about their genetic parents, despite having loving adoptive parents. Plus their medical histories are being denied them (indeed, the woman I know has a medical condition that has a genetic basis but has only recently been diagnosed, so it will never be known to the other family).

This website reveals some of the life long heartache of people who have been donor conceived.

To clarify, adoption is a biblical, positive and mutually beneficial act, providing a child for a childless couple and a loving home for a child in need. It is making the best of a difficult situation, whereas the fertility industry deliberately and intentionally creates difficult situations, and loss, for financial gain.

Unfortunately, I have to rely mainly on anecdotal evidence of harm because the HFEA, Government and regulatory bodies all fail to follow up women who have donated eggs, or women who have received donated eggs, or children who are born of donated gametes. It is an industry left to its own devices. We and others have called time and again for proper follow up.

But our concerns with egg donation go further than the Daily Mail investigation.

We urgently need more exposure of:

  1. The unethical marketing of egg freezing to women. The success rate of egg freezing to live birth is just 0.95 per cent! And yet egg freezing costs £3,000 for three years.
  2. The health risks of egg donation (here too). There is no follow up of women’s health after egg donation yet we know it can cause major, long-term, health issues, as well as psychological harm (as my story above illustrates).
  3. The exploitation involved. Only disadvantaged, economically needy, infertile, vulnerable and – deliberately targeted – students donate eggs, rarely wealthy women. Why? Because it is risky, painful, invasive and emotionally damaging, so only those needing an incentive will consider doing it, ie for cash (£750 per cycle of donation) or free IVF.
  4. The research industry. Women’s eggs are needed for embryo research (including for gene editing, creating three parent babies, hybrids etc), so how do scientists get hold of the hundreds of eggs needed for research? By enticing women with cash or cut price IVF. (See this advert here). Such incentives are essential because there are no health benefits for women donors – and it is ethically dubious research.

Does the health and well being of women count for nothing? Where are the feminists standing up for them? Where are the regulators? The lack of tracking, research and data is shocking. Egg donors need to know that long-term research simply is not there.

This is an industry built on the eggsploitation of women and it needs exposing.

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