Ova for sale: egg donors get up to $10,000

A human egg A human egg
(Mar. 2, 2009)   With some U.S. fertility clinics offering $10,000 a time, in the current economic downturn women are tempted to sell their eggs, perhaps to pay tuition fees or credit card bills.

In her Feb. 27, 2009 article "In hard times, more U.S. women try to sell their eggs" Michelle Nichols of Reuters noted that clinics are getting lots of interest. "The Center for Egg Options in Illinois has seen a 40% increase in egg donor inquiries since the start of 2008. Northeast Assisted Fertility Group said interest had doubled and the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine said it had received 10% more inquiries."

In the current economic slump some women see donating their eggs as a creative way to make money. First, however, they must pass the initial screening. A fertility clinic's ideal candidate is "in her twenties, healthy, attractive and well-educated," according to Katherine Benardo, who screens egg donors at Northeast Assisted Fertility Group in Boston. At Northeast women get $10,000 for donating eggs.

The process takes up to eight weeks. Once past the genetic and psychological tests, the donor takes hormones to synchronize her menstrual cycle with the recipient and to grow extra eggs. From five to 15 eggs are harvested using a needle through the vaginal wall, under general anesthetic. Eggs are fertilized with sperm in the lab. Some embryos are implanted in the recipient's uterus; any not used could be frozen for later use.

Donors can go to work or school as usual, but need to allow time for injections, blood tests and ultrasounds, plus one day off for egg retrieval. To avoid a possible pregnancy, donors have to abstain from sex during the process.

How much are a woman's eggs worth? The average U.S. compensation for egg donors was $4,217, according to a May 2007 survey in the journal Fertility and Sterility, "What Is Happening to the Price of Eggs?".

Is $4,217 excessive? An American Society of Reproductive Medicine ethics report in 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.

In her article "Ova time: women line up to donate eggs -- for money" Melinda Beck of the Wall Street Journal (Dec. 9, 2008) wrote that A Perfect Match in San Diego "offers up to $50,000 for egg donors with high SATs". The APM web site says it is up to the donor to name her price.

And the motivation? It's not just the money: " ... they are also looking to do something good for other families. And some of them say they love being pregnant," said Andrew Vorzimer, CEO of Egg Donation, Inc. of Encino, California. Also cited by Ms. Beck is a woman who wanted to stay anonymous and who donated through Mr. Vorzimer's service. She said she didn't need the money: "I thought it was a great thing to do to help people." Being an egg donor "is something to seriously think about, and not just go into for the money. You have to ask yourself, once this process is over and there's this baby out there, how are you going to feel? Think about it -- a lot."

The situation is quite different in Canada, where it's currently illegal to compensate egg donors, sperm donors or surrogates — it's a provision of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act of 2004. 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. For more, see "Egg donors shun clinics in wake of 2004 law"

For a list of clinics in Canada, see Fertility Clinics.
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