AT A GLANCE: ‘Half-price IVF’ scheme sparks media interest

PRWeek: What’s the scheme?

NESCI: A research team from the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) has been granted permission to recruit women to donate their eggs in return for a contribution to the cost of an in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment cycle. The idea is to use stem cells from their eggs to develop therapies for various conditions.

PRWeek: So is egg donation the issue here?

NESCI: No, it is accepted practice in IVF clinics that women who produce more eggs than they need can share them with others. But the idea of attaching it to financial reward is seen as a huge step. The patients will be recruited from women undergoing fertility treatment at the Newcastle NHS Fertility Centre at Life and the research is to be carried out by scientists at Newcastle and Durham Universities. Karen Bidewell, media relations manager for medical sciences at Newcastle, issued a release on it last week.

PRWeek: What sort of coverage did it get?

NESCI: Pieces on the scheme were in the Daily Mail, Financial Times and on BBC Online. But Bidewell last week concentrated on regional print and broadcast media, such as the Northern Echo and Tyne Tees TV, since the purpose of her activity was to encourage women in the region to sign up.

PRWeek: How have opponents reacted?

NESCI: Pressure group Comment On Reproductive Ethics issued a release last week deploring the decision to ‘commercialise egg donation’. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has also come in for some flak.

PRWeek: Why? What has it done?

NESCI: The HFEA is about to hold a public consultation on whether egg donation for research purposes is ethical. Yet it gave the green light for the Newcastle egg-sharing scheme. HFEA head of comms John Paul Maytum told PRWeek that his press team has talked to science correspondents to explain that the legislation under which it operates allows this decision.

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