Gamete Donation, going increasingly further?

In the decree published by the Official Journal this past Thursday, October 15, 2015, it was announced that the donation of ovocytes and spermatozoids will be enlarged to include people without children. Article 29 of the Bioethical Law of July 7, 2011 provides for this donation, which was announced by the minister last May, but until now the conditions for its practice had not yet been implemented.

Henceforth, even without having had a child, a woman between the ages of 18 to 37 can donate her ovocytes and a man between the ages of 18 to 45 can donate his spermatozoids. The measure announced by the minister, aims to increase the number of ovocyte donations, but also lower their average age which varies today at approximately 32 years of age, according to Dr Hélène Letur, vice-president of the Study Group for Ovocyte Donation.

Until now reserved for adults in good health, who had already reproduced, this opening of donations to people without children hopes to respond to the shortage facing infertile couples. “This year, we need 1,200 donors, 900 women, and 300 men, but we only have 450 ovocytes and 260 spermatozoids”, the Health Minister, Marisol Touraine specified, in an interview with the daily newspaper, Ouest France.

For volunteer donors, this decree also allows for self-preservation, gratuitously deep-freezing their gametes, so the donors themselves may later benefit from a part of the gametes donated, but only if they become infertile. Is this a first step for going increasingly further? Gynecologist, Joëlle Belaisch-Allart is arguing that all French women, donors or not, should have the right to deep-freeze their ovocytes and that their donation be renumerated. As Vice-President of the French National College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, she thinks that this decree could give certain women the desire to donate their ovocytes in the hope of recuperating them for themselves, because, as she explains “ for the moment there are no other means to preserve one’s own ovocytes in France. If we authorize women to conserve their own eggs for their future fertility without medical reasons, in five years we could greatly reduce the waiting-list of couples requesting egg donations”. For the National College of Gynecologists, “all women should be able to have access ‘at their convenience’ and without medical indications – to having their ovocytes frozen to preserve their future fertility.”

The Health Minister recalled that « To avoid situations where acts might not be voluntary or sufficiently thought-out, a psychological consultation would be “required” prior to donation for those who are not parents, to verify that the candidate donor had not been subjected to pressure”. She underlines, among other things, that “donating ovocytes, when one has not had a child, does not alter one’s own fertility.” However, the decree specifies that “the ovocyte donor be informed of the conditions for ovarian stimulation and ovarian tissue removal as well as the risks and constraints related to such techniques.” In fact, to donate ovocytes, a woman is subjected to examinations, an ovarian stimulation, and then a surgical procedure to remove the ovocytes from her ovaries. The risks related to the procedures are not inexistent.

Furthermore, pregnancies with donor ovocytes expose women to increased risks of pre-eclampsia, a danger which was underlined by Dr Harvey last September 25, during the second day of the infertility conference.

Donating gametes anonymously without remuneration will remain obligatory, with no limit specified for the length of preservation.

For Alliance VITA, these changes demonstrate growing pressure for donating gametes to the detriment of genuine prevention of infertility, notably concerning delaying the age of maternity. The offers from Google and Apple to finance ovocyte deep-freezing for their employees says a great deal about this growing tendency and which could be implemented if we continue along this line. The donation of ovocytes is particularly wearisome for women: where young women are encouraged to donate ovocytes to older women, at the risk of their putting their own future fertility in peril, is a certain form of exploitation that French society should question itself about.

Finally, this type of donation cannot be compared to other donations, such as giving blood, because it implies that the donor will potentially become the biological father or mother of one or several children. The donation of gametes is not an innocuous method of reproduction since the child conceived, is deliberately deprived of a part of his biological origins.

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