Shortage sparks call to pay egg donors $3k

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 23/02/2014

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Egg donors should be paid up to $3000 to stop increasingly desperate couples travelling overseas for fertility treatment, an advisory committee says.

Between $1000 and $3000 has been suggested as payment to donors, with the aim of encouraging more people to donate eggs, and sperm - but without turning babies into business.

New Zealand's advisory committee on reproductive technology (Acart) will make the recommendations to Health Minister Tony Ryall next month.

It will also urge the ministry to launch a public awareness campaign to highlight the sharp decline in women's fertility with age, and dispel the myth that IVF treatment is the answer.

Statistics NZ figures released last week show that last year, for the first time, more women became mothers between the ages of 35 and 39 than those aged 20 to 24.

Some of the women who took part in the Acart consultation talked about how they advertised in local dairies in desperate attempts to secure donors.

"Sending out emails and sticking up posters were not things I would want to choose if there was an easier way - it meant losing all our privacy," one woman wrote. "People in shops would ask me all about egg donation and, quite frankly, I wished I didn't have to be so public about it and rake up the difficult emotional journey of our IVF every time I went into a shop."

Acart chairman John Angus said increasing payments would allow donors fair compensation for their efforts.

"There's a real shortage of eggs, in particular, in New Zealand, and overseas couples are able to access eggs of younger women.

"People are very cautious in doing anything that looks like sperm is being paid for, but there's possibly room to have increased levels of compensation."

At present, couples can expect to wait about two years at least for donated sperm or eggs through a fertility provider. Many ask friends, or advertise for donors.

The Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act says eggs and sperm have to be given charitably, unlike in the United States and Britain, where sums of up to $10,000 are paid. In New Zealand, donations have to be open, so the child can find its origin.

But egg donation involves several doctor and psychologist appointments, travel, the medical procedure itself, and time off work to recuperate, Fertility Associates medical director Andrew Murray says.

"It's essentially an altruistic act, and by and large that's the way we think it should be. But about the most help [donors] can get here is $400, and that's woefully inadequate and doesn't in any way reflect what they are going through."

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As a comparison, the Ministry of Social Development offers an allowance of up to $4000 for someone who donates a kidney, he says.

Fertility Associates also thinks sperm and eggs obtained overseas should be allowed to be imported for implant.

But Acart disagrees, saying they can be imported only if they have been obtained in a way that is consistent with New Zealand standards. That does not allow eggs that have been paid for, or where the donor can not be identified.

THE GIFT OF LIFE

While her friends were partying or studying for exams, Charlie Gavey was having her body pumped full of fertility drugs.

While a student in Dunedin, she watched as a family friend struggled through multiple miscarriages. So she started investigating becoming an egg donor, signing up to Aussie Egg Donors as soon as she turned 21, the legal age.

She went through recipient profiles until she found a couple she liked the sound of. It was important to her that they were good people.

"I think you feel a sense of responsibility in that you're helping someone create another human. Some people go into it and expect there's some kind of interaction with the child or a relationship, and I didn't want or need any of that, but I just wanted to make sure that, 10 years down the track, I didn't regret it," she said.

In the months leading up to the donation, she attended multiple doctors' appointments, and took time off work for the procedure.

She met the recipients, which was "crazy weird" but awesome.

Last month, she went to visit the baby when it was born. "It's just so fulfilling, knowing that this child you helped create is so wanted, and has these two people that went through this huge journey to make it happen.

"There will always be that history, but now that I've watched them get to this point, my bit is done."

Gavey, now 23, thinks that, instead of increasing payments, more should be done to publicise and encourage egg donation by showing what a fulfilling experience it is, and what it can mean to a couple.

When she told people she was donating her eggs, reactions were mixed - from friends saying "Wow, that's amazing," to people wondering if it would impact her ability to conceive. "There's a lot of misinformation out there."

- Sunday Star Times

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