An American infertility clinic seeking business in Britain prompted fierce criticism by offering free eggs from a US woman to one participant in a promotional seminar in London on Wednesday.
The event has sparked a debate in Britain about the ethics of an event that many said violated the spirit, if not the letter, of a European Union law forbidding fertile women from being paid for their eggs.
Eggs donors in the UK cannot be compensated for more than 250 pounds ($384) per month for travel and time off work.
The rule limits the number of donors and makes it very difficult for infertile women to obtain eggs in the UK and much of Europe.
It is not illegal for Europeans to pay for eggs overseas, and for years infertile European women seeking eggs have travelled to other countries like America - where paying for eggs and sperm is common and legal.
Prize worth more than $10 000
As part of a marketing push in the UK, the Virginia-based Genetics and IVF Institute held a free seminar for about 100 British attendants on Wednesday night, where one randomly chosen couple won a free donor egg treatment.
To donate, a woman must undergo a monthlong treatment that involves injecting herself with hormones to stimulate the ovaries and then undergoing a procedure to retrieve several eggs.
The clinic's prize is worth more than $10 000 - a $6 000 fee for the donor and $4 000 in medical costs associated with the hormone treatment and egg retrieval.
Other US clinics have been known to pay women up to $35 000 for their eggs.
The Genetics and IVF Institute said its donors were college-educated women between 19 and 32. It has been giving away eggs in similar promotions in the US for more than a year.
Because the winner of Wednesday's lottery would travel to the US to get eggs from a US donor, the company's paying for them does not break any British laws.
But British fertility experts slammed the event as a publicity stunt.
"There's something shocking in the association of a raffle and giving away a human product," said Dr Francoise Shenfield, a fertility and medical ethics expert at University College London.
"In Europe, we have the general idea that altruism is a good thing, and we don't want to turn human body parts into a commodity."
Altruistic donation 'trivialised'
Shenfield, who has studied Europeans going abroad for fertility treatment, said it was impossible to know how many Britons were going to the US, since they do not have to report it.
Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates fertility treatment, said the US clinic's raffle was inappropriate.
"It trivialises altruistic donation" and runs contrary to regulations "to protect the dignity of donors and recipients," the agency said.
The Genetics and IVF Institute, based in Fairfax, Virginia, countered that it was simply offering a seminar in London commonly held in the US.
"They're not raffling off a human egg," company spokesperson Trina Leonard said.
'Turning human eggs into a commodity'
Britain's fertility laws stem from the EU's Tissues and Cells Directive, which says donors can only be paid for their inconvenience, though the compensation cost varies across the continent. In Spain, for example, women can receive up to about €900 (about $1 200) for donating eggs.
Fertility expert Allan Pacey, at the University of Sheffield, suggested Britain's supply of available eggs would increase if women were offered more money to donate, saying "250 pounds barely scratches the surface" of covering for the inconvenience.
Pacey drew a line, however, at selling the eggs, and said the US clinic's stunt risked turning human eggs into a commodity.
"Having a lottery is not how we do things in this country," he said.
'You have to pay for everything'
Polish citizen Hanna Tlatlik, who works in a London shop, said she thought paying for eggs was a good idea, as it would allow more women to have children. "You have to pay for everything," said Tlatlik, 24. "What can I give if not money?"
But not all women in Britain thought offering more money for eggs was a good idea. "It doesn't feel like a commodity that should be profitable. I could never charge someone for that," said Rhiannon Prytherch, a
28-year-old actress and theatre manager in central English city of Derby.
She said she might feel differently, though, if she were the one needing eggs. "If I were a woman who wanted to have a child, I would be willing to pay." - (Sapa/AP, March 2010)