Britain launched a public consultation Monday to help authorities decide whether people who donate eggs and sperm to fertility clinics should be paid cash compensation, and if so how much.

An online questionnaire drawn up by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) also asks for views on donation of eggs and sperm within families, such as between cousins, siblings, mothers and daughters, and on the number of families any single sperm or egg donor should be allowed to help create.

Fertility experts warned recently that a drastic lack of sperm donors in Britain means women wanting babies are resorting to importing semen from abroad or using do-it-yourself insemination kits bought on the internet.

Many experts think a change in the law in 2005 in Britain, which removed the donor's right to anonymity was what led to a sharp fall in the number of donations.

A study published last week found that donor-conceived children who make contact with their biological parents do not seem to be negatively affected. It also found that the majority of donors who have contact with their offspring report positive experiences.

Payment for tissue or organ donation is not allowed by law in Europe, but expenses and compensation payments for inconvenience and loss of earnings are allowed.

British authorities currently reimburse the expenses of donors, but do not pay compensation for inconvenience, and the HFEA says fertility clinics are reporting that some donors end up losing out financially.

By contrast Spain, which is often held up as an example of success in fertility donation, offers lump sum compensation of 900 euros for egg donors and 45 euros for each valid sperm sample produced, regardless of actual expenses incurred.

In Denmark, sperm donors get between 50 and 150 euros for undergoing tests, the use of their time and travel expenses.

We want to make sure that we have the best policies in place so that there are no unnecessary barriers in the way of those wishing to donate whilst protecting those who are born as a result of donation, said Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA.

The donation of sperm and eggs is a generous act and donors have helped many thousands of people achieve their dream of having a child.

She said HFEA experts would consider evidence from other countries as well as public views before any changes were made.

On family donation, which includes many different kinds of relationships, the HFEA is asking for views on whether all intra-family donations are acceptable, or whether some raise social or ethical issues that people are uncomfortable with. For example if a daughter donates eggs to her mother, the resulting baby would be both her biological child, and her social sister.

We want to hear a range of views from both those directly affected and those who are interested in the issues, the HFEA said in a statement. The consultation runs until April and can be found at Decisions will be made at an HFEA meeting in July.