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The BBC's Matt McGrath
"Getting an egg donor in Britain means a wait of up to three years"
 real 28k

Friday, 16 February, 2001, 05:04 GMT
Internet rush to buy human eggs
Egg under microscope
The US system is more relaxed
By Matt McGrath in San Francisco

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of infertile British couples buying human eggs over the internet from the US.

A BBC 5Live investigation has found that in the past two years the number of couples willing to make the trip to America and pay up to $5,000 for an egg has tripled.

In the UK, where the practice of egg buying is illegal, couples can wait several years for a suitable donor to become available.

But the more relaxed regulatory system in the US allows couples to be more selective about the donor, choosing a woman with desirable looks, background and good health history.

The emergence of the net has made the whole procedure so much easier, with couples able to browse prospective donors online.

Internet details

For some childless couples, the chances of having a baby depend on them securing an egg from a donor which can fertilised in vitro before being implanted in the womb.

But in the UK, where fertility treatments are highly regulated, this can mean a wait of up to three years before a suitable egg becomes available on the anonymous donor programme.

Now, British couples are turning in growing numbers to the United States, particularly California, where it is legal to buy and sell eggs. Information on donors, including pictures and educational details, is posted on the internet by agencies.

IVF tube
The cost of the procedure can reach $20,000
UK couples can search this information and select a donor before flying out to America to have the egg implanted.

The eggs themselves can be priced as high as $5,000 but legal and other costs will push the final bill for the trip up $20,000.

According to the US agencies servicing this growing British market, up to 60% of the couples return pregnant to the UK.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which oversees infertility matters in the UK, said it was aware that many more couples were choosing to fly to America to secure their treatment.

Positive effects

It expressed concern at how relaxed regulations were in some US states and for the lack of protection for the couples involved in the egg trade.

Critics of the US system have questioned the ethics of the egg market. They say it encourages couples to try to engineer the perfect baby. Certainly, the agencies themselves are quite open about the desire to give the new child the best genetic start in life.

Lyne Mackline, of Egg Donation Inc, said: "I tell couples when they are looking for a donor, whatever the husband's family has a challenge in, be it depression, alcoholism, obesity, we don't want a donor with any of those issues because we don't want to have double indemnity for having very unsuccessful genetics."

Shelley Smith runs the Egg Donor and Surrogacy Program in Los Angeles. She said: "The advent of the internet and the ability to go online and view a little bit of information and a photograph of donors has started to make couples picky. They have become a little bit obsessed with what a donor looks like and what her qualities are."

But Shauna, a 24-year-old donor, said the openness of the US programmes had very positive effects. She is even happy to meet the couples who will have her eggs.

"Why not have all this information? You can share this with the child later on. 'Yes, I met the woman who gave her eggs to help me have you and she was beautiful and she had a wonderful smile and light laughter'.

"I would think anybody would want that experience."

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See also:

27 Dec 00 | Health
Sperm donor anonymity review
26 Jul 99 | Medical notes
Donating eggs and sperm
18 Nov 98 | Health
Call to trace sperm donor parents
16 Jun 98 | Latest News
Push for sperm and egg donors
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