Egg donation firms exploit college women

Seeking young, attractive, healthy women, ages 19-30. No, this isn’t my pathetic way of advertising for a date, it’s the ad posted in a recent issue of the Daily by an egg donation firm. “Loving Donation” is willing to pay “up to $10,000” to female students for their eggs.

Despite the language of this and other similar companies, the truth is obvious: This isn’t a “donation” but a financial transaction – eggs for money. To avoid sounding crass, these egg “donation” firms try to dress up their solicitation in pretty language, calling it “egg donation” rather than “egg selling,” and “compensation” rather than “monetary incentive.”

They, as well as other firms, are targeting college women in an effort to turn a profit. I say “targeting” because many of these women are young students who are struggling financially. They are, so to speak, ripe for the picking.

There is an ethical concern that the high “compensation” packages these firms offer present an “undue influence” on women who might not normally volunteer to have their ovaries harvested for eggs. Women in college might

be unduly influenced by the monetary incentive, as they are often financially unstable as they struggle to pay rising tuition costs and living expenses while not having the time to work a full-time job.

The ethics of soliciting eggs from undergraduate women becomes particularly questionable when one considers the ages most of these firms target: 18 to 22. Though the companies accept eggs from older women, most of the women being solicited by their offers are undergraduates, fresh out of high school.

Though women of this age are legal adults, they might not be old enough to fully appreciate the gravity of their decision. This is true of young men and sperm donation as well. How can any of us know how we will feel in 15 years, especially when the biological clock starts ticking loudly? Our values, goals and life aspirations might totally change within that span of time. Would it be haunting to know you have a child in the world, whom you could pass by on the street without even realizing it?

The United States is the only country where egg donation is unregulated – subjugated to the capitalistic whims of the marketplace. Currently there are no legal guidelines in the United States regarding egg donation. However, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine states that, ethically, payment should not be such that the monetary incentive is the primary factor in deciding to donate. However, it’s clear that monetary incentive is frequently the primary factor for many donations.

Many companies aren’t even trying to cover up this fact. For example, a new company in Los Angeles called the Center for Egg Options hired an advertising agency to conceive of a hip ad. Instead of dressing up the wolf in sheep’s clothing and using the usual “give the gift of life” theme, their ad reads simply, “Pay your tuition with eggs.”

Donation firms do provide psychological tests to potential donors that present the possible psychological ramifications of donation. These tests, however, appear to serve the firm’s interests rather than the donor, as it’s essential for the firm to verify that any mental illness won’t be genetically passed down in the donation. Furthermore, it’s dubious that these firms will turn away egg donors given there is so much money at stake for them in these transactions.

This financial incentive isn’t as much in cases of sperm donation, and so there is less a threat of undue influence. Men donors earn an average of $65 per shot (and to think that all this time, most men have been doing it for free).

The compensation disparity between egg retrieval and sperm retrieval is due in large part to the difference in method. While the former requires frequent hormone injections and minor surgery, the latter requires only late-night cable or a Victoria’s Secret catalog. However, sperm donation often additionally requires a commitment of several months to two years (and, as we all know, many men have problems with commitment – especially when it comes to depositing their sperm in the same place for an extended period of time).

Also, eggs are in a far higher demand than sperm. Where sperm can be safely frozen for long periods for later use, eggs cannot. In addition, men have virtually unlimited amounts of sperm, whereas women produce a very limited amount of eggs every cycle. This makes the market demand of eggs extremely high – especially for eggs of “high quality.”

In fact, in March 1999, an advertisement ran in the student newspapers of Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale offering $50,000 for candidates who were “intelligent, athletic, blonde, at least 5’10,” had 1400-plus SAT scores, and possessed no major family medical issues.”

Loving Donation only advertises a compensation package of “up to $10,000.” The minimum payment, however, is $3,000, but the company will consider other factors, such as intelligence, athletic ability or “exceptional physical traits.” I’m not sure how such firms can maintain that the money is “compensation,” if their ideal donor gets paid $7,000 more than the average donor, yet they both endure the same hardships.

On its Web site, Loving Donation Inc. features a picture (on its donor page) of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, luscious-lipped beauty amid a sunlit field of flowers; she smiles coyly at the camera. Apparently this is what the ideal donor looks like. Ironically, the company’s founder states that it won’t “insult (the egg donor recipient’s) intelligence by starting out every (donor) profile with ‘She’s a long legged beauty from Sweden, perfect in every way.'”

While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with egg donation – in fact, it’s a godsend for infertile couples – there seems something wrong with the increasing commodification of the human body. Companies are soliciting women to submit their ovaries to harvest, and human eggs are transferring hands in exchange for large sums of money. They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but apparently it now grows in ovaries.

What we should be concerned about is not egg donation in general but the shady commercial tactics that result when you place human bodies on the marketplace. We should be concerned about the human body becoming a commodity for rent, lease or sale.

Egg donation is becoming a big business. And as egg donation firms offer increasing sums, some of the women they target might submit to the financial temptation of selling what might very well become their child.


Matt Brophy’s columns appear alternate weeks. He
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