As Australian couples seeking IVF wait up to six years for a donated egg, new UK laws which guarantee payment of A$1160 for an egg donation have sparked calls for a similar national scheme here.

The UK legislated for all egg donors to be paid 750 pounds per cycle — triple the previous sum of 250 pounds — earlier this year. Since the increase, waiting lists have dramatically dropped at clinics across the UK, with some clinics now having no waiting time at all.

Australians face average waiting times for a donated egg of between two and six years. Women can only donate their eggs altruistically — compensation is allowed, but payment is illegal. Some clinics, such as IVF Australia’s centres, no longer recruit egg donors, instead stipulating customers bring their own donor because of the long wait.

A survey conducted this week by Egg Donation Australia, a forum for women who are egg donors or recipients, found 26% thought standardised compensation fees for donors was necessary, while 38% believed education and awareness would help increase the number of donors.

Lesla Watson from the Queensland Fertility Group told Crikey that IVF patients at the clinic who required an egg donor waited at least five to six years. “Most women do find their own donors, either a relative, friend or just someone they know,” she said.

Melissa Bridges, a founder of Egg Donation Australia, says compensation for egg donors could help encourage more women to donate. But she dismisses the idea of paying for eggs.

There is a massive difference between compensation and payment,” she told Crikey. “Egg Donation Australia and me personally are not a fan of payment, but I think compensation would be a step in the right direction.”

In the US, a 2010 study reported women being paid up to $50,000, with many choosing to select specific physical and intellectual traits and advertise in prestigious university newspapers.

To donate her eggs, a woman must take a series of drugs including a nasal spray and daily injections for three to four weeks leading up to egg collection. At the end of her cycle, a minor surgical procedure occurs where multiple eggs are usually captured.

Bridges says women donating altruistically, as in Australia, tend to be more informed about the process and potential health risks. “With the girls that come on our site, we find it really important that they are educated, not just about what it involves medically and physically, but also emotionally. People just want to give because they’ve felt the joy and want to pass that on,” she said.

But Bridges says around 90% of donors on Egg Donation Australia have been inadequately compensated at some point, which could contribute to the lack of donors.

“Because it is an altruistic donation, you might be covered for out-of-pocket expenses only, but nothing else. Pretty much your motivations for donating are for personal satisfaction in giving someone else their dream of being a mother,” she said.

With one in six couples experiencing fertility problems, Bridges says Australia should adopt nationwide legislation rather than state-based laws. Currently, different rules exist across Australia regarding the access of IVF-born children to information about their biological parent, the sharing of eggs and the number of children able to be born from one woman’s eggs.

Legally, Australian legislation states all children born from donated eggs or sperm are entitled to information about their biological parent when they turn 18. But despite the recommendations of a 2011 Senate Committee, there is no national registry, causing difficulties for IVF offspring when identifying their donor parent. Queensland, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT have no legislation regulating sperm and egg donor conceptions.

“We’ve done many, many surveys on donor conception and children need to feel that they can piece together their origins,” Bridges said. For children born through IVF, not knowing about their genetic family background can cause pain and confusion.

Adelaide medical researcher Damian Adams was born through IVF and says on his Donated Generation blog that not knowing his biological father and potential siblings has left a hole in his life he’s been unable to fill.

“I want to know what my familial medical history is,” he wrote. “What is potentially in store for me, what do I need to look out for? I am concerned also for my own children.”

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey