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UK changes on egg and sperm donation may affect fertility tourism numbers

Pregnant woman abroad

Will the changes in the remuneration of egg and sperm donors in the UK affect the number of British couples that seek fertility treatment abroad? Increased payments will apply from mid-2012, bringing payment levels up to European levels (such as Spain and Denmark) and may help to solve the current egg and sperm shortage in the UK. 

The recent increase in remuneration levels for egg donation in the UK is a direct response by the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) to solve the egg shortage and reduce the number of British couples who are seeking fertility treatment abroad.

Payments to UK egg donors will increase threefold to £750. The HFEA is trying to meet the needs of childless couples without providing too great a financial incentive for people to come forward to donate their eggs. The £750 payment brings the UK reimbursement up to a level similar to Spain which is a popular destination for UK couples seeking egg donors. The HFEA believes that the increase is sufficient to “reward” people’s altruism but not enough to encourage egg donation purely for financial reward. Payments to sperm donors will also increase - to £35 for each visit to a clinic. The increased rates will apply from mid-2012.

Previously, someone who donated sperm or eggs was entitled to reimbursement for travel expenses and compensation for loss of earnings of up to £61.28 a day. The total payment for each donation could not exceed £250.

Shortages of both donor eggs and donor sperm has been one of the main drivers of “fertility tourism” out of the UK. Changes in the laws on donor anonymity in 2005 didn’t help matters. Children conceived through egg or sperm donation were given the right to track down their mother/father and this made donors reluctant to come forward.

There has been an increase in egg-sharing in the UK whereby women who are undergoing fertility treatment agree to share their eggs with other infertile women. They receive compensation of £2,000 plus on their own treatment if they opt for this.

Concerns expressed

Some concerns have been raised that the increase in reimbursement will encourage women to sign up for a procedure that does carry some risks.

Others see it as protectionism by a UK infertility “industry” which is keen to reduce the overseas patient flow.

In the Independent newspaper, David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, stated: "This is a disgraceful decision that puts young women's health at risk. Anyone who thinks £750 is not a financial incentive knows nothing about life on income support or with your student’s fees tripled..... this is about the interests of the IVF industry in stopping the flow of IVF business to Spain."

The outlook for fertility treatment abroad

Infertility treatment is one area of medical tourism that has been relatively recession proof. Whereas other areas such as dental tourism have been impacted by people either delaying treatment, opting for less treatment or just not having treatment at all, fertility treatment abroad has been steadily growing, certainly from the UK. Generally, couples do not delay fertility treatment and they will forgo other expenditure to fund their treatment.  We will not know until late 2012 whether the remuneration changes have stimulated an increase in eggs and sperm in the UK and how this might impact fertility tourism.

Date published: 27 October 2011


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