Israel has a severe shortage of egg donors. For this reason, many women who cannot get pregnant with their own eggs, whether single or part of a couple, must pay tens of thousands of shekels to receive a donation from abroad. The low number of women in Israel who have registered to donate their eggs — just 42, according to the Health Ministry — would seem to confirm that the measures taken so far to encourage egg donations in Israel have failed.
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Out of 25 in-vitro fertilization clinics that operate in hospitals and medical centers in Israel, only two extract eggs from donors, according to a ministry survey. After the survey was completed, Health Ministry officials announced their intention to revoke the operating licenses of clinics that did not have an egg donor system.
In July a Knesset committee decided that because of the shortage of women willing to donate their eggs, those who do so will now get twice as much money for them: 20,000 shekels ($5,776). But are these measures enough to encourage women to donate their eggs?
It used to be easier to find egg donors in Israel. Women who were undergoing fertility treatments and became pregnant would donate the surplus eggs that had been harvested. This created a system of mutuality among women who underwent fertility treatments.
The case that became known as the stolen egg affair put an end to that. In the case, two senior gynecologists harvested, on false pretenses, a large number of eggs from women undergoing fertility treatments, to sell to other patients. In addition, some Israeli physicians import donated eggs privately from abroad and charge high fees for doing so. As a result, patients interested in receiving donor eggs must pay large sums of money or go abroad — even as many eggs in Israel, enough for dozens of women who have difficulty becoming pregnant, remain unused.
While revoking the licenses of clinics that do not allow women to donate eggs is an important step, what Israel really needs is a campaign to increase public awareness of the issue. Without such a campaign, nothing will change.
A well-organized program must be created to tell women of the importance of the issue and actively encourage donations. Now that the Health Ministry has limited the number of state-funded fertility treatments — which could reduce the number of eggs that women in treatment are willing to donate — it is appropriate that the campaign also be directed toward women who are not undergoing such treatments, and encourage them to donate eggs on their own.
In addition, the should be a governmental agency under the auspices of the Health Ministry that is responsible for drafting Israeli policy on egg donation and providing ongoing supervision of the work of IVF departments, as recommended after the stolen egg affair. Budgets and personnel allocations should also be increased for IVF clinics that have egg donation departments.
A Health Ministry committee has recommended that one way to increase egg donations is to establish a donor egg bank, which it said would sever the immediate connection between donor and recipient. A spokesperson said the ministry was working on a law that would create a national egg donation bank.
About half of all women who use surrogate mothers are able to use their own eggs, which are extracted, fertilized and then implanted into the surrogate; on the other side of the equation, many other women need donor eggs to become pregnant, a process that can become quite expensive. Often, one round of implantation is not enough, meaning that more donor eggs must be purchased, which can cost roughly 60,000 shekels for two donor eggs if they are brought in from abroad. When this cost is added to that of other fertility treatments or surrogate procedures, Israelis can easily sink beneath the financial burden.
We are certain that greater awareness of these issues could prompt women to help each other out and increase the number of women who are willing to donate their eggs.
The writers are social workers who run Parenthood Center, a surrogacy agency based in Kiryat Ono.