The Donation Of Human Eggs Is Not Legal In United Kingdom

It is currently a criminal offence to be involved in the sale of organs and the Human Tissue Act 2004 lists a series of offences regarding using organs for financial or material gain. Also, the HFEA says: “No money other than benefit shall be given or received in respect of any supply of gametes or embryos unless authorized”. In other words, receiving a payment is unlawful but the Human Fertilsation and Embryology Authority have allowed compensation for donors since 2012. In surrogacy arrangements, for example, the procedure cannot be a commercial transaction. Ethicists have steered away from the idea of a ‘womb for rent’ and in order to prevent any kind of bidding war or a woman undergoing multiple pregnancies to the detriment of her health, the surrogate mother can only claim what are deemed reasonable expenses. In reality, many surrogate pregnancies are private arrangements and the mother can name her price. Participants in research studies and clinical trials are also eligible for the payment of their expenses so it could be said that there is some degree of ‘hidden’ commercialism.

Human eggs are widely sought after but it is “illegal to pay for egg donation in the UK. Egg donors can receive compensation of up to £750 per donation ‘cycle’ to cover their costs” . Sperm donors are entitled to a maximum compensation of £350.00 for ten donations . If giving the gift of parenthood to those who cannot conceive naturally is an altruistic act, then this also applies to donated organs with safeguards to protect both donor and recipient. The Human Tissue Act allows the removal, storage and transplantation from a dead donor provided there is the correct consent, including choices about organ donation made before the death of the individual. Decisions about who can receive an organ are highly sensitive. According to the NHS Blood and Transplant website, “there are currently around 6,000 people on the UK Transplant Waiting List. Last year over 350 people died while waiting for a transplant. ” Not everyone who needs a transplant will receive one and the harsh truth is that many on the list are waiting for another family’s tragedy in order to receive the organ they desperately need.

So whilst not yet going as far as Erin and Harris (above), living donation where an organ is taken from a live person and given to another is legal in England and Wales and in many cases can circumnavigate long and worrying waiting lists. It is usually a kidney that is given through live donation as most people can live well with one kidney if the other is removed. Herring writes: “If a living donor wishes to donate regenerative tissue (for example blood or bone marrow), there are few legal or ethical objections to this. ” Few would disagree with this provided the donor provides valid consent and demonstrates understanding of what the procedure entails. If the procedure will cause the death of the donor (such as a parent donating their heart to their child) then it is prohibited. Some organs such as a liver segment, the lobe of a lung and one kidney is allowed if the person is in good health and are an excellent match to the recipient. Exceptions would be if the patient lacked capacity, then donation would have to satisfy the criteria for it being in their best interests . However, according to the Human Organ Transplants Act 1989, any donation by an incompetent person to a non-genetically related recipient would be unlawful.

Those who argue in favour of selling organs cite that there would be an increased number of organs available which would save more lives. It is also an autonomous right and therefore too paternalistic to forbid it outright.

It has been suggested that there is very little in comparison between selling organs and risky but accepted employment roles such as military service during wartime. However, the selling of a kidney to someone in need is often seen as somewhat distasteful and widely condemned, yet the consequences of such an act can save a life. Savelescu argues that it is inconsistent to not pay someone for their organs whilst paying them to do dangerous work. He makes the point as follows:

“If we should be allowed to sell our labour, why not sell the means to that labour? If we should be allowed to risk damaging our body for pleasure (by smoking or skiing), why not for money which we will use to realise other goods in life? … Or consider the diver. He takes on a job as a deep-sea diver which pays him an extra $30,000 … This loading is paid because the job has higher risks to his life and health. He takes the job because he likes holidays in expensive exotic locations.”

In some respect he is right. In certain circumstances the legalisation of selling a kidney has merit. The donor (or vendor) has more protection with regulation than without it. Also, the selling of an organ can provide a better quality of life (or prolong the life) of the recipient and could also raise much needed funds to pay for expensive medical treatment or fund an education for a relative or dependent. Furthermore, it is likely that the number of organs available would increase, a view that has found favour with Utiliarians. Preventing the sale of organs can be seen as excessive paternalism yet as demonstrated, there are equally valid arguments against allowing the sale of organs 

07 July 2022
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