Egg donors shun clinics in wake of 2004 law
— donations drop 70% at Montreal fertility clinic

Dr. Seang Lin Tan Dr. Seang Lin Tan
(Nov. 21, 2008)    In Canada it's currently illegal to compensate egg donors, sperm donors or surrogates — it's a provision of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act of 2004.

The question is, does banning payment to donors and surrogates make it harder for infertile women and men to achieve their goal?

It would seem so. A year after the ban became law, the number of egg donors at the McGill Reproductive Centre in Montreal had dropped by 70%, said the Centre's director, Dr. Seang Lin Tan.

Because egg donors can't take money, their motivation must be altruistic. Donating eggs is a real sacrifice, so fewer donors step forth.

Anna-Maria Henderson, Manager of the McGill Reproductive Centre, explained that egg donation "is a lot to go through; it means taking fertility drugs and getting blood tests, and it takes a lot of time. With the law that prevents us from reimbursing donors, the process is often too much for someone to want to do for a stranger."

Tempted to sell her eggs

Writing on Mar. 17, 2008 in The McGill Daily (McGill University, Montreal) Rosie Aiello suggested that a black market in human eggs could form. She cited the case of McGill student Brianna Hersey, who in 2007 posted an ad, "Egg donor seeking couple in need."

Aiello quoted Hersey, "I was coming out of a period of serious illness, out of a time of being really at odds with my body, and I saw egg donation as something positive that I could do with my body. It seemed really rewarding."

Hersey didn't want money, but the chance was there: "Although it's really illegal in Canada, I knew that I could be reimbursed a few thousand dollars for the experience." The number of responses Hersey received showed the serious need for egg donors in Canada.

Although Hersey did put a price on her eggs, she said she would have done it for free, had her financial situation allowed it. In the end, she couldn't donate eggs — the fertility drugs conflicted with a medication she was taking.

Black market gametes?

An underground trade in eggs could develop, because some couples are desperate to have children, and students need the money. Janet Takefman, director of psychological services at McGill Reproductive Centre, explained to Rosie Aiello, "Often, compensation occurs under the table simply because the donor needs money to pay tuition, not because they're looking to get rich."

The demand for human eggs is certainly there. See for example Kijiji ... under "egg donor" ads in Toronto there are eight women seeking egg donors in the Toronto area, as of Nov. 21, 2008. They specify the desired age, race and physical appearance of the donor ("ideal match fair skin, green eyes, light hair").

Selling eggs has become big business in countries where it is legal. In the U.S. the IVF industry is worth an estimated $4.5 billion. Donors with the right physical, personal and intellectual attributes can attract fees of up to $35,000 for their eggs. In New York average eggs are fetching $8,000, according to the Nov. 5, 2006 article in the Independent, Eggs for sale: The booming business of sharing your fertility.

The New York Times of May 15, 2007 reported in As Demand for Donor Eggs Soars, High Prices Stir Ethical Concerns that the average payment in the U.S. for egg donation was $4,217. An American Society of Reproductive Medicine ethics report from 2007 said compensation over $5,000 for one cycle of eggs calls for "justification"; payment over $10,000 is not appropriate. Women ought to be compensated, said the report, to acknowledge their time, inconvenience and discomfort. Without compensation women likely would not donate eggs, either for fertility treatment or for research. The Times quotes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 5,767 babies were born in 2003 from donor eggs.

More articles

Feb. 9, 2006. Reproductive Technologies: Surrogacy, and Egg and Sperm Donation. By Sonya Norris, Science and Technology Division, Library of Parliament. Overview of donating gametes (eggs and sperm) and surrogacy; steps taken by Canada to regulate these practices.

Mar. 15, 2006. Egg-donor business booms on campuses. USA Today. Fertility clinics are bidding up prices for eggs sold by cash-strapped college women with top test scores and picture-perfect looks.

Mar. 28, 2006. The Process of Gamete Donation for Egg Donors. Health Canada. Estimates ranged from about 10 to 26 days for the entire process.

Apr. 30, 2007. Law against paying egg donors drives couples to US. CBC News. Some Canadian couples trying to conceive say the country's laws prohibiting compensation for egg donors is driving them underground or across the border. Although it is illegal to compensate egg donors in Canada, women told CBC News they would undergo a fertility drug cycle that usually results in about 20 human eggs for $5,000 and $7,000.

July 15, 2007. Your Gamete, Myself. By Peggy Orenstein, New York Times. Using donor eggs for in vitro fertilization is one of the fastest-growing infertility treatments today.

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