Donating eggs for research

Background

Developments in stem cell technology have led researchers to increasingly look for fresh human eggs to carry out their projects.

To increase the availability of fresh human eggs researchers proposed obtaining eggs specifically for use in research either through non-patient donation or through egg sharing schemes.

Some doctors and scientists expressed concern over how researchers would obtain the eggs and expressed fears that women could be pressurised into donating eggs and have their health put at risk.

In July 2006 the HFEA announced that it would review its guidance which restricted the donation of eggs for research to only those patients who were undergoing IVF treatment or sterilisation, and which did not allow for non-patient donation.

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Consultation process

The HFEA carried out a full public consultation to develop new guidance on whether it was appropriate for women to donate their eggs for use in scientific research.

The consultation document ‘Eggs for Research: safeguarding donors’ considered the issues associated with the donation of eggs for research, and specifically addressed: 

  • the current situation around donation, including safeguards already in place to protect donors
  • current HFEA guidance around embryo research  
  • issues identified in relation to egg donation specifically for research 
  • the potential problems associated with donation of eggs for embryo research
  • the additional safeguards which could be introduced to ensure that donors are adequately protected if egg donation for research were to take place.

The consultation period ran between September and December 2006 and gave members of the public an opportunity to share their views on whether egg donation for research should take place and, if so, how to best protect the donors.

The HFEA Ethics and Law Committee (ELC) considered the information gathered as part of the Eggs for Research review at their meeting on the 16th January 2007.

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Consultation outcome

The Authority at its February 2007 meeting considered the findings of the public consultation and the recommendations of the HFEA Ethics and Law Advisory Committee.

The Authority agreed to allow the donation of eggs for research both through non-patient donation and egg sharing arrangements. The additional safeguard measures recommended by the HFEA Ethics and Law Committee to ensure that egg donors were fully protected were also agreed.

The decisions made by the Authority were included in the ‘Guidance’ section of the 7th edition of the Code of Practice in its first update in October 2007.

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Page last updated: 01 February 2012

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