WMA Resolution on the Non-Commercialisation of Human Reproductive Material

Adopted by the 54thWMA General Assembly, Helsinki, Finland, September 2003,
revised by 65th WMA General Assembly, Durban, South Africa 2014

and reaffirmed by the 217th WMA Council Session, Seoul (online), April 2021


The rapid advances in biomedical technologies have led to growth of the reproductive assistance industry, which tends to be poorly regulated. Despite the fact that many governments have laws prohibiting commercial transactions of reproductive material, most have not been successful in universally preventing the sale of human ova, sperm and embryos on the internet and elsewhere. The market value of human material, including cells, tissues, and cellular tissue can be lucrative, creating a potential conflict for physicians and others between economic interests and professional ethical obligations.

For the purposes of this resolution human reproductive material is defined as human gametes and embryos.

According to the WHO, transplant commercialism “is a policy or practice in which cells, tissues or organs are treated as a commodity, including by being bought or sold or used for material gain.” [1]

The principle that the “human body and its parts shall not, as such, give rise to financial gain”[2] is laid down in numerous international declarations and recommendations.[3]   The 2006 WMA Statement on Human Organ Donation and Transplantation and the 2012 WMA Statement on Organ and Tissue Donation call for the prohibition of the sale of organs and tissues for transplantation.  The WMA Statement on Assisted Reproductive Technologies (2006) also states that it is inappropriate to offer financial benefits to encourage donation of human reproductive material.

The same principles should be in place for the use of human reproductive material in the area of medical research.  The International Bioethics Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO IBC) in its report on the ethical aspects of human embryonic stem cell research states that the transfer of human embryos must not be a commercial transaction and that measures should be taken to discourage any financial incentive.

It is important to distinguish between the sale of clinical assisted reproductive services, which is legal, and the sale of the human reproductive materials, which is usually illegal.  Due to the special nature of human embryos, the commercialization of gametes is unlike that of other cells and tissues as sperm and eggs may develop into a child if fertilization is successful.

Before human reproductive material is donated, the donor must give informed consent that is free of duress.  This requires that the individual donor is deemed fully competent and has been given all the available information regarding the procedure and its outcome. If research is to be conducted on the material, it is subject to a separate consent process that must be consistent with the provisions in the WMA’s Declaration of Helsinki. There must not be any inducement or other undue pressure to donate or offers of compensation.

Monetary compensation given to individuals for economic losses, expenses or inconveniences associated with the retrieval of donated reproductive materials should be distinguished from payment for the purchase of reproductive materials.


  1. National Medical Associations (NMAs) should urge their governments to prohibit commercial transactions in human ova, sperm and embryos and any human material for reproductive purpose.
  2. Physicians involved in the procurement and use of human ova, sperm, and embryos should implement protocol to ensure that materials have been acquired appropriately with the consent and authorization of the source individuals. In doing so, they can uphold the ethical principle of non-commercialization of human reproductive material.
  3. Physicians should consult with potential donors prior to donation in order to ensure free and informed consent.
  4. Physicians should adhere to the WMA Statement on Conflict of Interest when treating patients who seek reproductive services.

[1]  Global Glossary of Terms and Definitions on Donation and Transplantation, WHO, November 2009

[2] European convention of human rights and biomedicine – Article 21 – Prohibition of financial gain

[3] Declaration of Istanbul guiding principle 5

Embryo Transfer, Ethics, Gametes, Reproductive Technology

WMA International Code of Medical Ethics

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