Infertile couples should be allowed to pay women up to $10,000 for a donation of eggs, according to leading IVF specialist John McBain.
Dr McBain, chairman of Melbourne IVF, also called for Victoria’s Infertility Treatment Act to be ditched: “It gets in the way of many people having families.”
Dr McBain said the law should be changed to allow payment because lack of donor eggs is the biggest obstacle for women over 40 who are on fertility treatment. “I’d like to be giving treatment to women who don’t have any useful eggs of their own and can’t get any,” he said.
But his proposal has been criticised by the Catholic Church and another senior IVF specialist.
Catholic Church spokesman Father Anthony Fisher said commercial trade in eggs would exploit poor women.
“There’s a frightening trade in human organs in Asia and the Middle East, and in gametes (sperm and eggs) in some parts of the United States,” he said. “Australians don’t want to be part of that.”
He said that in some parts of the United States, poor women who could not afford surgery were offered free operations, or the chance to jump a hospital waiting queue, if they donated their eggs.
Monash IVF medical director Gab Kovacs said he opposed paid egg donors. “I think we’ve got enough good people in the community who will do it altruistically. Once money comes into it, I just feel that people may not be honest enough about their histories.”
Dr McBain said donors should receive $10,000 for a single cycle, which produces between eight and 16 eggs, and up to $30,000 for several cycles. He said at present only two or three women a year volunteered for unpaid anonymous donation to strangers.
“I’m trying to break out of this mindset that it’s not nice to offer someone an incentive to help someone else with the donation of tissue,” said Dr McBain, who recently helped Melbourne woman Leesa Meldrum successfully challenge Victoria’s ban on IVF treatment for single women.
“I think giving eggs for an IVF program is hard work. It involves a lot of . . . attendances at the clinic, anaesthetic, hospital admission, a small surgical procedure.”
Egg donors also risked the rare side-effect of ovarian hyperstimulation, which affects one in 800 women on IVF and requires hospital admission for treatment, he said.
Father Fisher said the health issues should not be minimised. “Those IVF deaths that are reported around the world from haemorrhaging are usually from egg collection.”
The chief executive officer of the Infertility Treatment Authority, Helen Szoke, said egg donation was not just about supplying the needs of infertile women.
Children would be born who would want to know their origins and who would have their own feelings about the fact that their eggs were bought, she said.
Professor Kovacs said the Infertility Treatment Act should not be ditched. “I think the act is terrible; it’s got lots of conflicts in it . . . But, having had one, if we said we wanted to get rid of it, it would seem like (IVF practitioners) didn’t want policing any more. It would seem that we were trying to do something underhand.”
A spokeswoman for the Victorian Government said there were no plans to remove bans on the sale of human tissue, including gametes. But the Law Reform Commission would be asked to examine the issue of eligibility for treatment under the Infertility Treatment Act, she said.
A national patient advocacy group plans to lobby Premier Steve Bracks for several IVF changes. Access Infertility Network executive director Sandra Dill said Victoria’s regulations were the toughest in Australia and were obsolete even before they were implemented.
She said they forbade some people from removing frozen sperm or embryos to states where the service they wanted was legal.
Also see: Unnatural Selection
First published in The Age.