Fertility clinics love to line their walls with photographs of beautiful newborn babies, their “success stories”. IVF has enabled babies to be born to many couples who would not otherwise have been able to conceive. But for every happy couple holding their new IVF baby in a fertility clinic photograph, or featured in the media, there is another story with a different ending.
A recent undercover investigation by the Daily Mail claimed that some fertility clinics are exploiting couples desperate to have children. Women are being persuaded to “donate” or “share” their healthy eggs in return for free or discounted fertility treatment.
Clinics promoting “egg sharing” argue that not only does this provide eggs for infertile women, but also that a woman who has healthy eggs, but not the necessary funds for treatment, gets a free roll of the IVF dice. It sounds like a win-win situation. Except that all too often it is not.
The other side to this was brought home personally to me when the daughter of a friend similarly “shared” half her eggs for someone else’s fertility treatment, in order to have free IVF. She was hospitalised by the procedure and the drugs she had to take. Years later she is still highly traumatised, having been unsuccessful in her own IVF treatment but knowing that her eggs resulted in a successful birth for another woman. She has never had any long-term practical or emotional support from the fertility clinic.
Another woman, Emma Aguado, who also had free IVF treatment that failed, told the Daily Telegraph: “It was devastating. Having given half my eggs to someone else, all I could think was ‘I want them back.’ But it was too late.” She also heard that the recipient couple had a successful pregnancy with her eggs. According to the Telegraph she explained that “Having £5,000 worth of treatment dangled in front of you – incentive far beyond the £750 that clinics are legally allowed to compensate women for their eggs – encourages some to do things they wouldn’t usually consider.”
But my concerns with egg donation go further than the emotional damage to donors. Anonymous gamete donation can also cause a lifetime of heartache for the children born from it, who are denied any information about their biological heritage and their medical histories. The daughter of my friend has a medical condition that has a strong genetic basis which has only recently been diagnosed, so it will not be known to the family that received her eggs, nor to the child that was born from them.
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