Women are to be offered reduced price in fertility treatment if they donate eggs for controversial cloning research.
The fertility watchdogs have given permission for a scheme for 'egg sharing' so as to advance work on human cloning. They have announced that the women who agree for this scheme and pass on their spare eggs to the cloning researchers could potentially reduce the cost of IVF treatment by almost half.
The researcher team from Britain are hoping to use the harvested eggs to create embryos from which they could obtain stem cells that they hope could one day be used to treat incurable diseases such as Alzheimer's. The scientists have also mentioned their hope that this scheme would also help in overcoming the current shortage in eggs as well as being useful for necessary development in stem cell cultures.
This announcement b\y the officials has already provoked quite a number of protests about the ethics of such a scheme. The campaigners have warned that it was the same as 'buying eggs' and are of the fear that many women would desperately be compelled into taking part in this scheme just for financial reasons.
It was reported that last year a team of scientists from the North East England Stem Cell Institute in Newcastle had announced to create an early stage cloned human embryo, and it is now recognized as a world first. It was explained that though the embryo had survived only a few days, the scientists are now hoping that if they can repeat the earlier success, they could get stem cells from the embryos matched to an individual. They hope that ultimately these 'building block' cells could then be used to repair damaged tissue and organs.
It was explained that the team has so far been trying to get the eggs by asking women having treatment to donate two if at least 12 are produced during their IVF cycle. It was however, explained that over the last seven months, this method has generated just 66 fresh eggs. It was therefore explained that the researchers had applied to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for permission to launch an egg-sharing scheme.
It is already known that many clinics run egg-sharing schemes currently in which the women would get cheaper treatment if they donate their leftover eggs to others so as to help them become pregnant. But the new scheme from Newcastle takes this step further by offering discount in IVF if women give their eggs to researchers. The HFEA on Wednesday granted the license, which is stated to be the first of its kind in the UK with a condition that the center should provide regular information from it for a public consultation on egg donation.
The researchers have explained that the consultation, which is scheduled to run from September to November, will look into issues like medical risks, consent, shortages and importing eggs from abroad. Professor Alison Murdoch, director of the fertility center, maintained that the egg- sharing scheme would not involve any extra risks for women.
Professor Murdoch further explained that the dose of drugs that would be given to stimulate the ovaries would be the same whether a woman kept all of her eggs or gave some away. It was explained that clinics generally charge Ģ2,500 for a cycle of IVF, and that if a woman agrees to share her eggs with the research team, she suggested cost would be reduced by half. The team had also stated that the center has not yet secured research funding for the scheme and so would not be able to start helping women for another six to 12 months.
While Professor Murdoch said it is important that no women are recruited through coercion or 'excessive financial inducement', Josephine Quintavalle, of campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said, "This is clearly a way of buying eggs. Vulnerable infertile women are going to be put under pressure."
Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, said, "The HFEA's decision shows its contempt for public opinion and its general bias in favor of anything the IVF industry asks for."
It was explained that the HFEA said it had a legal duty to consider any application it receives. Professor Chris Higgins, Director of MRC Clinical Sciences Center, said, "This ensures the UK can continue to move ahead in stem cell research which promises to improve the health and quality of life of many individuals in the future."