Brussels, 15 Feb 2006
The UK's fertility watchdog is considering a change to its rules that would allow British women to donate their eggs solely for the purposes of therapeutic cloning research.
Under the current guidelines, only women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or other gynaecological treatments are allowed to donate eggs for research purposes. However, a shortage of donated eggs is restricting embryonic stem cell research in the UK, and has led the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to propose the change of rules.
Opponents of the move argue that egg donation is an invasive procedure that can lead to potential complications, including fertility problems and, in rare cases, kidney damage and death. Such donations are already approved for those who want to help infertile couples to conceive, and proponents say that women should also be allowed to take on these risks for the benefit of scientific research if they so choose.
Ainsley Newson, a lecturer in medical ethics at the University of Bristol, told The Times of London: 'So long as women are made fully aware of these [risks] and are not put under dress, they should have every opportunity to participate.'
The HFEA has said that it will ban the practice of allowing researchers to donate eggs to their own laboratories, following the case of the Korean cloning pioneer Woo Suk Hwang, who had used eggs donated by junior researchers in his own team in his now discredited research. It is expected that researchers will be allowed to donate eggs to other laboratories, however.
While some press reports have suggested that the HFEA is ready to approve the new rules during a meeting on 15 February, a spokesperson for the body said that the outcome of the discussion is not a foregone conclusion. 'As a responsible regulator, we have to look at this closely,' he told the BBC.