Decade-old bill on ova donations becomes law

Legislation could eliminate need for couples to go abroad to purchase human eggs.

A government bill – over a decade in the making – to ease the shortage of donated ova for infertile women who want to become mothers was passed on its second and third (final) readings by the Knesset plenum on Monday.
Called historic by Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee chairman MK Haim Katz (Likud), the law – to go into effect early next year – is expected to eliminate the need for couples to go abroad to buy human eggs for conception.
The problems caused by the shortage of Israeli donor eggs were highlighted a year ago when Israelis running a fertility clinic in Romania were arrested after being suspected of marketing ova bought from poor Romanian women and sold at a high profit to desperate Israeli women.
The bill will change the situation in which only women undergoing fertility treatment themselves are able to donate ova they do not need; the previous regulations were meant to prevent ova sales, but it in fact caused them.
A few years ago, a gynecologist and fertility expert then at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva was convicted for “stealing” extra eggs from his patients without their knowledge. He was found to have overstimulated their ovaries with drugs so that they would produce an excess of ripe eggs for extraction.
That case led to action on the government bill and discouraged many women from giving eggs for altruistic reasons – thus causing the severe shortage of human ova for donation.
Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman – a Gur hassid representing United Torah Judaism – began to study the bill upon taking office in March 2009.
Although initially reluctant to support the measure – prepared on the basis of recommendations by the Steinberg Committee and formulated by his ministry’s legal department – he become a strong advocate as he realized that no law would be very harmful.
It has been described by ministry legal adviser Mira Huebner as “one of the most complex pieces of legislation I have worked on due to its ethical, commercial, legal, religious and medical implications.” The law protects the rights and health of women who donate unneeded ova and of the women who receive the donated eggs. It sets out the rules for government supervision of the medical and legal aspects and also regulates the use of human ova for research.
The law raised from 51 to 54 the maximum age at which a woman may receive donated ova, given the longer life expectancy in the Western world. Sales of ova and middlemen facilitating the sale will be barred, as will setting a condition for fertility treatment that a woman agrees to donate unneeded ova for other women or for research.
A woman may altruistically donate ova even though she is not undergoing fertility treatment herself after receiving approval from a committee comprised of doctors, a clinical psychologist, social worker, lawyer and public representative of clergyman.
The committee must be persuaded that no mental, economic or social pressure induced her to donate and that she was of a sound mind when agreeing. The ova can be taken only after the donor agrees in writing that it be used for specific purposes.
A protected databank will register the donor and the recipient, and if a sperm donation is used to fertilize the egg, a registrar will ensure that there is no family connection between the donors of the gametes. Each donor may give no more than 20 percent of the number of eggs removed from her body – or up to two ova. The donor will receive financial compensation as set down by law to the volunteer donor; if the donor is herself undergoing fertility treatment, she will receive only half the designated compensation.