A bright pink box fills my screen; soon it’s filled with blue cartoon sperm swimming towards a large, wobbling egg, where they congregate to spell the word ‘joy’. Alongside it is a message, which reads: ‘By becoming an egg or sperm donor, you could give the joy of starting a family to more than 200 people in Scotland, who need help becoming a family.’ It’s accompanied with the hashtag ‘JoyLoveHope’.
I’m looking at a digital advert, part of a series rolled out across radio and the internet in Scotland from 2021 until last year, where it culminated in National Fertility Week. Advertising for egg donors (and sperm donors) is a common – if ethically questionable – practice, and many private clinics do it. But this advert is different. It’s from the Scottish government.
This week, it emerged that Holyrood spent £186,000 on the advertising drive, which it said was necessary to hike the number of altruistic donations in the country. (In Scotland, unlike in England, egg donors can’t claim £750 in compensation for the weeks of treatment they must go through in order to prepare them for the donation.) Messages pushed by the government in the advertising drive included telling potential donors that ‘NHS Scotland needs egg and sperm donors for those who need your help to create a loving family’.
To donate eggs, a woman must be aged between 18 and 35 and be able to commit to a programme – under which women go through the same treatments as in the first stages of IVF – for three months before their eggs are collected. It is an invasive procedure not without risks (one being ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a survivor of which was left in hospital for two weeks and said it ‘nearly killed’ her) – but you’d be hard pushed to find them outlined on the Fertility Scotland website, a service commissioned by NHS National Services Scotland on behalf of Holyrood.