Today's Washington Post reports that a bioethical tiff broke out when a Virginia fertility clinic raffled off—as an incentive to attend a London infertility seminar—a free cycle of in vitro fertilization using donor eggs. Cash value: $23,000. According to the Post:
The seminar, designed to entice infertile British women to seek donor eggs in the United States, drew intense criticism from infertility experts, bioethicists and others in Britain and the United States, who likened the event to a crass, commercial come-on similar to a lottery, with the prize being a human body part.
The fertility bureaucrats in Britain were especially not amused.
"We strongly have the view that using a raffle to determine who will receive treatment with donor eggs is inappropriate," said a spokesman for the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which regulates infertility care in Britain. "It trivializes altruistic donation, whether of eggs, sperm or embryos.
Well, actually someone needs to tell the HFEA busybody that eggs are legally bought and sold in the U.S. (usually for thousands of dollars) and infertility treatments are generally paid for out-of-pocket by patients. The Post did note in passing that European policies do produce fertility treatment shortages:
European countries, including Britain, prohibit payment for eggs and limit the amount of money a donor can receive to a small amount to cover minor expenses. The result is that eggs are much more difficult to obtain in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, leading increasing numbers of women to travel to the United States.
The Post quotes Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, as saying:
"This is just about patients trying to get access to treatment they need. If they can win a contest that is going to allow them to build their families, and a physician is going to offer a service that can help them do that, then we applaud them."
I applaud them too. As my wife pointed out over breakfast, if the woman who won the lottery had any moral objections to the proceedings, she needn't have put her name in the hat in the first place.
One further observation: If you want to participate in a real organ lottery, just wait until you need a transplant organ allocated by the United Network for Organ Sharing in the U.S.
For more information, please read my colleague Kerry Howley's excellent article "Ova for Sale" on her own egg selling experience.
Disclosure: I have attended a conference put on by the fertility clinic featured this article, the Genetics and IVF Institute, and they bought me a really nice dinner, too. At the dinner I had the privilege of talking for a considerable period of time with Bob Edwards who, along with Patrick Steptoe, jumpstarted IVF when their work resulted in the birth of the first "test tube" baby, Louise Joy Brown, in 1978.