Money muddles minds of egg donors
What would you do for $5,000? How about $50,000?
Increasing numbers of young women across the country are donating their eggs to be used in assisted reproduction procedures for monetary compensation. The women are usually paid around $5,000 per cycle, but some (particularly women with desirable genetic traits) can be paid as much as $50,000.
“Eggsploitation,” a 2010 documentary produced by The Center for Bioethics and Culture, explores the depths of this rapidly growing and largely unregulated industry. “Eggsploitation” highlights the ethical concerns of women receiving money for their eggs, which falls into the practice of treating body parts as a commodity.
Bulletin board advertisements are used to seek out healthy, fertile women in their 20s. These advertisements are especially appealing to college students who may be in need of funds for school.
While purchasing organs or tissue is against the law in the United States, people can still receive money — though considered a compensation, not a purchase — for donating body components such as plasma, sperm or eggs.
The fact remains that this donation provides an invaluable service to others. Supply chain management sophomore Vidha Dixit said that while she is not completely comfortable with it, she believes the help gained by the recipients is the most important aspect to consider.
“I know a lot of people are unable to have children … I think if someone is able to (help them) do that, and if they’re making a profit off of it, I don’t see that there’s anything wrong, because they’re helping make a family for somebody else who couldn’t do that,” Dixit said.
However, some egg donors end up paying the price with their own health.
The egg donation process involves fertility treatments to make the ovaries produce more eggs from the existing follicles, whereupon the eggs will be removed with a needle injected directly into the ovaries. In addition to the complications inherently possible with surgery, such as internal bleeding and infections, the hormonal treatment to hyperstimulate the ovaries can cause other serious complications, some of which can be fatal.
US News reported a 2008 study that found that serious complications experienced immediately after egg donation are rare. Out of the 886 studied retrieval cycles, the rate of serious complications such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, ovarian torsion and ruptured ovarian cysts was 0.7 percent.
The most common physical problems donors cited were bloating, pain and cramping, mood changes and irritability and weight gain or loss. While serious immediate risks are rare, many of the long-term risks of egg donation are only just now being revealed.
Some women have later reported suffering infertility or decreased fertility. While the evidence is still unclear if fertility treatments increase cancer risk, the increased level of female hormones naturally produced in the body during ovulation gradually increases the risk of ovarian and breast cancer with each ovulation cycle, with more intense ovulation cycles having the potential to affect this as well.
For this reason, fertility doctors advise against undergoing the procedure more than six times, although there are no laws to regulate this.
“You’re playing Russian roulette with your future fertility and your future health,” said Dr. Robert Stillman, director of the Shady Grove Fertility Center in Rockville, Md., to ABC News. “The more you ovulate, the greater the risk of ovarian cancer. So if these stimulated cycles are more risk, then there may be more potential as (these donors) age in their seventies and eighties to get cancer.”
Still, because donations in the U.S. are usually anonymous, there is no national egg donor registry to properly track egg donors and the long-term consequences of egg donation. Without adequate research of the risks, it is impossible for prospective egg donors to make an informed decision.
Supply chain and logistics technology junior Jaine Montiel said she thinks donors need to be well-informed and just as mindful of the risks as they are of the benefits of egg donation.
“I understand people are in need of money, but that’s a huge risk you’re taking, and I feel like if somebody’s going to do that, they need to be aware of every single risk that they’re taking,” Montiel said. “They have to be aware that there’s a possibility of death, (and) there’s a possibility of infertility.”
The incentive of money can lead even the most well-informed people to compromise their own interests. The high monetary compensation drives young women who are struggling for money to make a compromised decision, and it may also be what drives some women to donate well past the recommended number of times.
The purpose of compensation should be to compensate the donors for their trouble including, making up for any lost wages missed during appointments, but not to entice women to donate. Offering high monetary compensation to support the growing demand for eggs is manipulative and shows a lack of concern for disadvantaged young women’s well-being in favor of the high-paying clients.
Other countries, such as Canada, have outlawed monetary compensation for egg donation altogether, only allowing gratuitous egg donations. Even in countries that do allow for compensation, including the United Kingdom and several other western European countries, there is often a cap for compensation between the equivalent of 1,000 to 2,000 U.S. dollars.
The ethics of paid egg donation are still up for debate, but if it is going to continue, the industry at least needs more oversight and protection for egg donors, including more long-term research and regulation of monetary compensation, so that prospective donors can be confident and comfortable in the life-changing decision of egg donation.
Opinion columnist Eileen Holley is an English literature senior and may be reached at [email protected].