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Why is the Scottish government targeting women for egg donation?

A still from the Healthier Scotland campaign video

November 7, 2023 - 5:20pm

In a move which may have gone largely unnoticed outside of feminist circles, last week the Scottish government launched a publicly funded advertisement campaign, targeting young women and men for egg and sperm donation.

Titled “Healthier Scotland”, the advert is part of an official campaign by the Scottish government on social media, radio and other channels, to drive up the numbers of egg and sperm donors. According to a previous government document, “supply does not meet demand”. 

Disconcerting though it is to have an official campaign for what remains a contentious issue, there is something more troubling at play. The pastel-coloured adverts all feature words such as “love” and “hope”. Also present are phrases such as “give the gift of being parents”, “give the joy of starting a family” and “help bring joy to someone”. If one wishes to target young women reared as part of the “be kind” generation, this is the ideal language to use. Yet nowhere did any of the adverts list the side effects or risks associated with egg donation. 

It isn’t widely known, but egg retrieval carries health risks, some of which can be severe. One of these, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), can prove fatal. OHSS occurs when the ovaries develop too many follicles as they over-respond to the medication used to mature the eggs prior to retrieval. If this happens, fluid from the blood vessels can leak into the abdomen and, in some cases, into the space around the heart and lungs. 

Mild OHSS in women having IVF treatment is quite common, usually affecting around a third of patients. Severe OHSS is rarer, but two women died in the UK following complications arising from the condition in 2005 and 2006. More usually, side effects of egg retrieval for women include vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain. Where the issue becomes more pernicious is that OHSS is more common in women aged under 30 — precisely the group targeted by these adverts. 

Even setting aside the undeniably airbrushed advertising campaign, is this territory a government should be straying into? What the state permits, it promotes. Holyrood has apparently embraced egg donation as a social good, but how much thought has the Scottish Health Secretary, Michael Matheson, given to the wider implications these campaigns have for young women? Some may be worried that public money has been used to push a practice many people consider unethical; for others, there is concern over the risks for all women if our eggs come to be seen as something that others can ask us to give up or share out. 

This campaign represents a clear departure from previous practice. It is not usual for governments, anywhere in the world, to advertise for egg donors. While fertility treatment has long been supported, for the state to be specifically targeting young women for their eggs is a new step. It behoves us all to pay attention to the consequences.


Helen Gibson is the founder of Surrogacy Concern, a new campaign founded to raise awareness of the consequences of surrogacy and egg donation.

SurrogConcern

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

Why is the Scottish government targeting women for egg donation?
That sounds awfully transphobic. Surely men can donate eggs just as effectively as a woman. For shame, Scotland.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

Plus, no mention of the potential health hazards of sperm donation, including blindness.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

And also hair on your palms. But that’s true of werewolves as well, which I understand Scotland is full of.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
8 months ago

Altrui is a prominent UK egg donor organisation that describes the process as follows:

“Once you reach the end of the treatment cycle, you’ll go into the clinic for egg collection, a painless, minor procedure that takes around 20 minutes. We’d like to reassure you that it is very rare to experience pain from undergoing the egg collection process.”

In contrast this article highlights the fact that long term risks are not well researched: https://www.statnews.com/2017/01/28/egg-donors-risks/

So reliable risk evaluation to provide proper informed consent is not really in place.

If the Scottish government wants to boost births to replacement level it might be cheaper and more straightforward to encourage more sex among the young and discourage abortion.

Highlighting the rapid drop off in fertility in women as they age would be a useful counter to the myth that it is easy to conceive late in life. A woman’s fertility begins to decline from about the age of 30 and the rate of decline rapidly increases past the age of 35. Something that too many women intent on enjoying themselves or intent on career progression fail to take into account. Conceiving later in life becomes both more difficult and potentially much more expensive – hence much of the demand for egg donation. Conception is not something to put off to a more convenient time.

Talia Perkins
Talia Perkins
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Prove there are any actual — that means measured, not theorized — long term risks. Until you can, you have no point.

Talia Perkins
Talia Perkins
8 months ago
Reply to  Talia Perkins

They are literally citing an article which states there are no known long term risks.

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
8 months ago

The people are constantly told by the media and many in politics that the world is ending. We will boil in our own sweat apparently, the seas will flood the lands, ‘global warming’ is in runaway, and that over-population is real and growing. Add to high tax, low disposable income, high housing cost and lack of availability, lack of secure jobs. I’m not surprised they are having trouble getting people to have babies. I am more surprised that many are bothering at all.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 months ago

Couldn’t Mr Useless just invite lots of Palestinian refugees to Scotland? That would up the birth rate.

Cynthia W.
Cynthia W.
8 months ago

Only women have eggs to sell.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
8 months ago
Reply to  Cynthia W.

A famous bandit was once asked “Why do you rob banks?”, to which he replied “‘Cause that’s where the money is.”

William Shaw
William Shaw
8 months ago
Reply to  Cynthia W.

The selling of eggs and sperm is considered immoral.
The accepted exchange is to remunerate people for their expenses and charge recipients administrative costs only.

R M
R M
8 months ago

“Why is the Scottish government targeting women for egg donation?”

Might have something to do with Scotland’s catastrophically low Total Fertility Rate of 1.28. Much lower even than England and Wales’s rare of 1.61.

You need a TFR of 2.1 to sustain a population indigenously.

El Uro
El Uro
8 months ago
Reply to  R M

TERFs would be better.

H W
H W
8 months ago

Commodification creep.

Talia Perkins
Talia Perkins
8 months ago

If more donated eggs are asked for than available, and no one is lied to about the risk rate — you have no point at all in objecting to this.