What Ethical Issues Are Raised By Advertisements for Egg Donors?

donor“Help loving couples conceive a child! Seeking egg donors with a clear health history, GPA 3.6+ and above 1350 on SAT.  Must play a musical instrument.  $10,00 Compensation.”

Have you seen an ad like this in your local college newspaper?  Chances are if you leaf through the classified sections of any elite university, you’ll find one just like it.  The advertisements, placed by couples or agencies looking for women to donate their eggs to be used to help couples conceive through In Vitro Fertilization, appear in college classifieds across the country.  They are notoriously featured at Ivy League schools, often targeting high achieving women with superior grades and test scores, offering anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 for highly qualified donors.  Many call for specific qualities in their donors:  “Donor ideally has artistic skills, as intended mother is a talented oil painter and piano player,” reads one.

The internet has opened the door for other opportunities to advertise as well.  Countless private donor agencies advertise on websites, on Craigslist, and even on Facebook.  Just the other day, this add appeared on the side bar of my Facebook page:

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Clicking on it brought me to a site for “superdonors”, which specialized in brokering transactions with “elite” egg donors like actresses and models:

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I found out it’s no mistake that these ads appear on college campuses and are targeted to students on Facebook. A representative from Tiny Treasures, an egg donor agency, said:

“We have found that targeting [college] populations is likely to attract young, bright and responsible women who would be ideal prospective donors.”

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So what ethical questions are raised by the marketplace that has arisen for egg donors? To me, there seem to be a variety of factors to consider:

1) Should couples be able to specify particular talents and attributes in egg donors?

Many of these advertisements ask for specific characteristics in their donors, not only background health and psychological examinations, but certain ethnicities, SAT scores, GPAs, athletic abilities, and other special talents.  The fee offered—which can vary significantly– is often conditional on meeting these requirements.

The Yale Daily News wrote about one donor agency that, like “superdonors”, pays higher fees for more desirable donors:

“In a process akin to that of college admissions, Tiny Treasures requires all prospective donors to mail copies of their SAT scores and college transcripts with their applications, both of which have direct bearing on the amount of compensation received. The agency suggests first-time donors receive between $2,000 and $5,000, but students who qualify as “Extraordinary Donors” — those with SAT scores above 1250, ACT scores above 28, college grade point averages above 3.5 or those who have attended Ivy League universities — receive between $5,000 and $7,000 for their services.”

Asian donors are also highly targeted, as are Jewish donors.

Is it ethical for couples and/or agencies to specify traits, or is this a form of immoral eugenics? Should a couple be able to ask for a clear health history, but not high intelligence? A particular ethnicity, but not certain physical attributes?  In the marketplace for egg donors, is it ethical to base the quantity one pays on the so-called “quality” of the product?

The second question to consider is what role money plays in recruiting women to donate their eggs:

2) Does offering large sums of money constitute undue financial inducement?

Some bioethicists argue that offering such high fees to donors –ranging anywhere from $5,000 to over $50,000–is “coercive” and is unethical because it constitutes “undue inducement” of young women. Targeting college campuses takes advantage of trying to attract students who are in debt or otherwise financially strapped, where a sum of thousands of dollars could seem very appealing for a student who has student loans, is saving up for graduate school, or is looking to contribute to her savings. One donor writes,

“(When I was in graduate school) I found myself desperate for a few thousand dollars…I was sick and tired of being poor, demoralized from graduate school and the harsh criticism that goes with it, and I desperately wanted to get on with my life. I had seen ads in the free entertainment newspaper paying “$3,000 for Egg Donors” I was only making $10,000 to $12,000 a year, so this seemed like a fortune to me. And why not make money from something I wasn’t using?”

Though agencies report screening out women that are donating for purely monetary reasons, compensation, to be sure, plays a critical role in incentivizing donations.  Since the recession has hit, for example, egg donor rates have increased by as much as 40%.

But bioethicist Laurie Zoloth feels that donating eggs should be done free of cost, because providing financial compensation creates a slippery ethical slope:  “Whenever society starts to pay for relationships that are traditionally done with altruism and generosity within families, it raises the issue of whether there is anything that is not for sale.”

Eric Cohen, in his article, Biotechnology and the Spirit of Capitalism, echoes, “What we should most fear about biotechology’s transformation of modern capitalism…(is that) we will come to believe that bio-capitalism can sell us everything we desire, and thus come to accept that everything is for sale.”

The issue of compensation has become important in the area of research where, as Bioethicist Douglas Melton says, “The lack of compensation has meant it’s been nearly impossible to get enough eggs.”

But New York State recently passed a law to allow taxpayer-funded researchers to pay women for donating their eggs, stipulating up to $10,000 in compensation, which researchers believe is an important step in encouraging donations. Allowing compensation will encourage women to donate their eggs to research who wouldn’t have done so otherwise if the money had not been offered, and thus increase opportunities for research.

“We want to enhance the potential of stem cell research,”said David Hohn, vice chairman of the Empire State Stem Cell Board. ”If we are going to encourage stem cell research as a solution for a variety of diseases, we should remove barriers (to research) to the greatest extent possible.”

The questions are, is it ethical to use money to incentivize women into donating their eggs?  Is there a difference between compensating a woman for donating eggs to be used for IVF, and for compensating women for donating eggs to be used in research?

The issue of whether women should be compensated for egg donation inevitably prompts a more fundamental question at the heart of this discussion: What is the moral status of an egg, and how does that factor into what price, if any, can be placed on it?

3) What is the value of a human egg?

Is there a morally significant difference between donating blood and donating an egg? If so, what is it?  Opinions on the status of a human egg vary widely.

Harvard Business School Professor Debora Spar, author of “The Baby Business,” is against allowing compensation for donor eggs, telling USA Today simply, “We are selling children.”

But others featured in the same article don’t have ethical qualms with paying for eggs. Kristen, a UC Berkeley student and two time donor, says she donated with few moral concerns: ”What makes a child your child is that you raise it,” she says. “(My eggs) are just DNA.”

Many agencies get around this ethically complicated issue of “buying eggs” by claiming that the money is not paying for the eggs themselves, but for the trouble of going through the hormone injections and cycle to donate them.

One donor agreed: “I am going through injections daily and all sorts of medication (to donate my eggs).  I should be compensated.”

Bioethicist Ronald Green echoes, “We pay for participation in research that has risks associated with it for other procedures. So why not this?”

Do you agree with Debora Spar that paying for donor eggs constitutes selling children, and is therefore immoral? Or are eggs, like Kristen believes, “just DNA”?   Are they somewhere in between?

The final issue that stands out to me is to consider the way in which these advertisements are presented, and what role that plays in influencing the decisions of potential donors.

4) Whose responsibility is it to patrol these advertisements?

Psychologist Hilary Hanafin from the Center for Surrogate Parenting and Egg Donation said that college students are vulernable targets: ““Being an egg donor is a big decision. It’s not like being a blood donor, and a 21- or 19-year-old undergraduate probably doesn’t have the capacity to understand what she’s getting into.”

A student donor interviewed on the blog Ivygate who answered an egg donor ad conveyed similar sentiments:“ I don’t think young women think long and hard about the emotional risks. Try to imagine not how you feel at 19, but how you’re going to feel at 29.”

The physical risks, in addition, can be significant, and may be downplayed by these advertisements.  Some advocacy groups take issue with this lack of attention to the risks.  One campaign on Facebook states,

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Given these concerns, should college newspapers and Facebook refuse to run these ads? Should there be limits on where and to whom these advertisements should be targeted?

In closing, there are a variety of ethical questions raised by this topic.  Should people be allowed to specify certain traits in their donors, and compensate them based on those traits?  What role does the sum of money offered to donors play in motivating donations, and is this unethical?  What is the moral value of a human egg, compared to the “market” value ascribed in these situations?

Listen to the following NPR podcast, “Egg Donation and the Free Market” (12:44) for two interviews with former egg donors.

Watch “College Students Turn To Donating Eggs For Money”

1) Is it ethical to pay money for donor eggs for research or for use in In Vitro Fertilization?  If so, how should the price be determined?

2) Is targeting students in college newspapers and on Facebook unethical?  Should college newspapers and Facebook remove these ads from their classifieds?

3) Consider the following quote from Eric Cohen’s Biotechnology and the Spirit of Capitalism: “The new commerce of the body…promises perfection, not progress; and it heeds no limits, treating the sacred and profane as indistinguishable objects for sale, ruled only by the amoral law of supply and demand.”  Should we allow market principles to dictate what is permissible and what is not with technology, or should we invest in drawing a strong moral line on certain practices? When it comes to reproductive technologies, where should that line be?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

30 Responses to “What Ethical Issues Are Raised By Advertisements for Egg Donors?”

  1. Christine Le says:

    I do not believe egg donors should be paid for their donations. This would be ethically wrong because it would be possible that the intentions of the donors are not solely for research purposes or to help another person with their infertility. Paying a donor would increase the chances of the donor not fully comprehending, or even overlooking the risks, as well as the benefits, of this procedure. Therefore, by not fully comprehending both of these aspects, informed consent of the donor would be invalid.

    This could perhaps trigger the poor to donate their eggs and not fully understand the procedures that they will have to go through, such has ovary hyperstimulation. This could cause pain, and occasionally leads to hospitalization, renal failure, potential future infertility, and even death. (Magnus, D., Cho, M.)

    I also see advertising egg donation in college newspapers as unethical because, in this case, the money offered is being used as a coercion tool. They are targeting college students because they are most likely in debt, and it “seems” (or at least the flyers might indicate) that it is a small procedure for a hefty payout. These newspapers and networking websites should take these ads down because, in terms of ethics, it is not respecting the autonomy of the college students; the money would be influencing or coercing the students’ decisions to participate in the research. Again, this influence of money would blur potential participants’ understanding of the procedures or where their eggs will eventually end up or what else may be done to their eggs.

    As far as where to draw the line in reproductive technologies: there should be a line, however not a static one. This is what I believe the general public has right now concerning this technology. This is where reason and experience in making a moral judgement come into play. We can reason that reproductive technologies certainly has the possibility of being beneficial to society, but there has not been overwhelmingly solid proofs of whether or not this technology works, and not just works, but works at a high efficient rate. As a society, I believe we should be open, or even a cautious techno-optimist, when it comes to this technology. From past observations, any new biotechnology has been ill perceived at the beginning of its research, but slowly the public begins to accept or at least be open to the concepts.

    Issues in Oocyte Donation for Stem Cell Research. David Magnus and Mildred K. Cho (17 June 2005) Science 308 (5729), 1747. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1114454].

    • Richelle Neal says:

      I am going to have to disagree with Christine; I believe it is ethical to pay money for donor eggs for research or for use in In Vitro Fertilization. I think it is unrealistic to assume egg donation would still occur without a feasible reward. The risks and harms are great to the body, and there needs to be some compensation for that. Now, it gets tricky in determining a price for the donation of eggs, but yet again I do not see how this could be avoided. It is in our capitalistic nature as a country to put a price on certain traits and attributes. I do not think you can stop anyone from paying more money because they find a donor that fits their ideal of “perfect or better”.

      • CMRose says:

        I would have to disagree with Richelle because I do not believe that we can pay women to donate eggs for research. This is mainly because it would not be putting a price on certain traits and attributes, it would coerce socially disadvantaged people to undergo a dangerous procedure. Now it may be difficult to obtain eggs without paying, but I do not think that it is ethically acceptable to pay for egg donation in a research setting.

      • Rodney Nishimoto says:

        Is it ethical to pay money for donor eggs, however, we must keep in mind that everyone has a price and as payments to women providing oocytes continues to increase, more women will discount the serious physical and psychological risks of their donation and go ahead with donation. Compensation for donor eggs is ethical only when it is based on the time, inconvenience and risks associated with oocyte retrieval—not on the eggs themselves or the traits and attributes of the donor.

    • Bryn Willson says:

      2) Is targeting students in college newspapers and on Facebook unethical? Should college newspapers and Facebook remove these ads from their classifieds?

      I believe this type of advertising is indeed unethical because in these short advertisements on facebook and in college newspapers, they often times do not describe all of the possible consequences of donating ones eggs. Granted that may not be the best marketing strategy in an advertisement to get egg donors, however with young students in need of money (as most are these days) it is more important than ever to explain what exactly they are getting themselves into. Especially since the monetary gain is so great, informed consent is crucial.

      There are medical complications such as hyperstimulation of the ovaries that occur more often than these advertisements would probably disclose. Furthermore, attaining eggs from the ovaries is not exactly the least invasive of procedures. Not to mention the moral burden of knowing that some child out there, whom you have never met, is walking around with half of your genetic material. And a student in need of money is not likely going to spend their time looking up the consequences to egg donation.

      Therefore if a college newspaper does decide to run these adds, then I believe they must also put a large warning in red that explains that a student must be WELL INFORMED before consenting to donate their eggs.

  2. Emily Scroggs says:

    In terms of donating eggs, there is no clear cut way to establish a line that determines when it is ethical and when it is not. This is because saying that it is acceptable for people to donate eggs for IVF treatments and not acceptable for others to donate for research purposes confines the individual freedom of a donor to determine where they are going to send their eggs.

    On top of this, the issue becomes even more complicated when deciding if donors should receive monetary compensation. The multiple injections and potential risks of donating eggs would make monetary reward seem plausible; however, once money is involved, the intentions of a donor are likely to become skewed. This, like Christine mentioned above, also leads to people in need of money readily donating their eggs without seriously considering the health risks of doing so.

    Although these reasons make determining whether egg donation is ethical or not, what I believe is definitely unethical is the approach that companies are taking to attract people for egg donation. By using facebook and internet websites to advertise egg donation, a certain subset of the population is being addresses. This population is most likely teenage to college aged individuals; a group that is likely to be attracted to money and not as interested in investigating the health risks. In my opinion, this is definitely unethical. If people are going to be encouraged to donate eggs for monetary value, they must also be equally informed and encouraged to research the physical and emotional side effects of such an action.

  3. ecleveland says:

    As a college student who was seriously considered becoming an egg donor, I am very interested in the ethics of egg donation. There is no question that my motivation for wanting to donate was purely financial. At the facility I looked at, first time donors received a minimum compensation of $5,000, while second time donors received minimum $10,000. In an ideal world, people would donate eggs based on altruistic motives that required no compensation. I do not believe that we live in that world. Without compensation, I believe the egg donation industry as it exists now would disappear.

    Perhaps a more relevant question is whether compensation-based egg donation, particularly when compensation is based on test scores or specific abilities, is ethically permissible. This is a difficult question to answer, because I believe it depends heavily on motivation, which is something that is very difficult to discern or regulate. For women or couples without viable eggs who wish to have children but don’t want to adopt, egg donation seems to make sense. I think that the desire to have children with similar physical qualities or abilities is also natural; however, I believe that desire also has the potential to manifest in unhealthy attempts to “improve” one’s children, which can lead to increased pressure and expectations for the child. But as said before, I don’t believe there is a good way to measure a person’s intentions. In light of that, I think that allowing people to essentially pay for specific qualities in their children should not be allowed.

    • Ankita Kohli says:

      I completely agree with the author of the above comment. We don’t live in an altruistic world where women would just donate their eggs without some compensation. Unless, the woman is a close family member or friend to the couple who needs the eggs. It is one thing to pay women for egg donations but it is even more ethically troubling that people would pay more for certain desirable traits in the donor. It would be like going shopping where you pay the highest price for the best material. I don’t believe that its ethical to pay women for egg donation but I think it should be done because these women are risking a lot by agreeing to donate their eggs. And as the person above has written, the egg donation market would decline. The desire for parents to have children as similar to them as possible is understandable and they may have the right motivation for paying more but it does not justify the unethical aspect of this practice. Every woman who donates her eggs is subjecting herself to the same level of risk as any other woman. Except if she has some health issues, in which case she should not be allowed to donate her eggs. Doctors cannot predict the level to which women will experience the side effects of the procedure or any serious complications. As such, all women should be paid the same amount for their egg donations. Of course, women undergoing this procedure should be extremely well informed and should be checked over by doctors who can approve them for donation. Also, there should be a fixed price for the egg donation procedure and this could be enforced by the government. I do understand that it is difficult to put a price on the value of something like egg donation.

  4. CMRose says:

    I do not believe that it is ethical to pay money for donor eggs for research or in vitro fertilization. This is due to the risks involved in the procedure and the fact that most egg donors will feel that donation will be a way to get an easy few thousand dollars. Coercing young women into undergoing a potentially dangerous procedure for the sole motivation of monetary gain will be putting them at risks that they may not understand. For example, many of the ads make this procedure seem routine and completely safe, however it can be dangerous. I wonder if someone can be properly informed when the prospect of money is looming over completing the procedure. There are not only questions revolving around the safety of the issue, but what about the health of her future children. As women get older the chance of having a baby with Down syndrome rises, most likely due to the degrading quality of the egg. If a young woman donates her eggs will this become a problem sooner in her life? For all of these reasons I would also say that targeting young women on facebook or myspace is also unethical because it demonstrates the active recruitment of young women who may be in a financial state to consider donation based solely on the monetary compensation.

    With all of that said, in reality, there may be no other way to obtain egg donors, especially from “super donors”. Without monetary compensation who would undergo this risky surgery? It is doubtful that a larger number of young ladies will have the foresight or understanding to realize and support research that is tens of years away from becoming medically relevant. How else would donors be found and convinced to donate their eggs?

    I believe that we should invest in drawing a moral line with this technology because applying the rules of supply to possibly lethal medical procedures will set a bad precedent for other procedures. Based on these principles, what stops someone from offering 1 million dollars for a kidney transplant? Or what will stop organ donors’ families from demanding money for the use of their deceased family member’s organs? With all of these scenarios it is clear that a supply and demand system will not work in determining what and what isn’t permissible. I believe that that line should be drawn by not allowing payments for donations such as these.

    • Brian Norton says:

      Originally after reading this article I thought the main ethical concern of offering monetary reward for oocyte donation was safety. I believed that offering money for eggs distracted uninformed women of the dangers of donation. However, after completing our course in ethics in biotechnology I think the main ethical concern is informed consent. I don’t mean to take away from the importance of safety in this issue but I think that the safety concern is taken care of when informed consent is properly obtained.

      Adequate informed consent depends on adequate disclosure of information, patient freedom of choice, patient comprehension of information and patient capacity for decision-making. If all these things are present then the oocyte donor would properly understand the dangers of donating and would then be able to weight the benefits vs. the risks of making a donation. Money would still likely play a role in the decision but it would be a well informed choice.

  5. Peter D. Tran says:

    I do not believe paying for eggs is an unethical process; women who donate their healthy eggs to infertile women are ethically entitled to be paid for their services. The amount of time, energy, and psychological stress that occurs due to the procedure needs to be accounted for, and the only serious way would be to address it monetarily. However, with that in mind, by creating such strong incentives to donate eggs, researchers open the door to donors with potentially no interest outside of financial gain. Potential donors may end up making hasty decisions for immediate benefit, disregarding the consequences that follow. As already mentioned, donors may experience pain, hospitalization, renal failure, and even death. Such compensation would make it extremely difficult for anyone, students or otherwise, to make a rational decision regarding donation, perhaps even ignoring such risks. As a way to prevent this, there needs to be a ceiling on the amount of money paid to donors to prevent abuse, but as to how much, it’s difficult to say. What one person considers a lot of money, may not be so for another.
    By advertising on college campuses for specific traits, researchers and companies involved with In Vitro Fertilization are taking advantage of particular situations. How differently would potential donors view the procedure if there was 5,000 dollars of compensation versus 10,000? 10,000 dollars to a college student facing debt from student loans, tuition, and other expenses, blurs the line between trying to obtain sufficient eggs for research, to taking advantage of those in need of money. It would be unethical to target college campuses and Facebook for this reason alone, but that the advertisements also discriminate against other potential donors who do not fit the academic profile or age group is yet another reason. Furthermore, the whole idea of selecting for an egg donor with certain SAT scores, grades and athletic ability perpetuates the idea that children born from these eggs will possess these same traits and talents. What happens if they do not have over a 1250 SAT score? What happens if they do not have over a 3.5 G.P.A? Whose fault is it then? Is it the donors? There would be an unneeded amount of pressure on the child and donor to produce a child with certain capabilities, something that remains ethically troublesome.
    As a final point, the line between reproductive technology and market principles has already been distorted. Although necessary, it will now be even more difficult to regulate reproduction and technology, and doing so may have unintended consequences. I believe the process of egg donation needs to be strictly regulated so that future endeavors remain possible. As it stands now, egg donation may soon be heading down a path where eggs from certain individuals may be treated as organ transplants – a high demand and low supply. In order to avoid this, a strong moral line, focused on preventing specialized egg donation needs to be implanted, if anything to at least hinder couples in need of In Vitro Fertilization to discriminate against certain eggs and embryos. In addition to the standard set, the reproductive technologies now in use also need to be treated on a case by case basis, so as to prevent further exploitation.

    • Katie says:

      I feel slightly inclined to agree with Peter about it not being unethical to be compensated for donating eggs. I like what the blog and NPR clip said about paying for the trouble that goes in to getting the eggs. Obviously, most of the women that get compensated for egg donation do not see it this way, or do not care. I think another ethical question to explore would be if the people seeking eggs’ motivation for compensation is ethical (i.e. it’s not for the eggs its for the risks and trouble) but the donors motivation for donating is not, where does that put the ethical status of compensation?

  6. Isabelle Nguyen says:

    I remember in high school I casually said that if I needed the money to pay for college I’d donate my eggs. Over the past few years, I’ve taken that thought off the table considering the fact I know now. If the purpose of egg notation is to provide a couple eager to have a child that opportunity or furthering science, there should not be monetary compensation. When there is a monetary value set on oocytes, it opens a door in which young women are more likely to be taken advantage of. The monetary value on an oocyte allows society to consider putting a value on biological parts. There shouldn’t be a price on oocytes to begin with.

    College newspapers, more so than Facebook, have a responsibility to protect its students. Even though students are legally adults and can’t be told what to do with their bodies, colleges still hold the right to not accept such classified ads. In not having those ads, it shows that the university does not support young women having to pursue those means. Targeting students is unethical because people advertising on college campuses know that a majority of students are strapped for cash. It is in a way is using women as a means to an end.

    The future of reproductive technologies is one that should not be taken lightly and the line that should be drawn is one that limits people to their own gametes or ones that have been willingly donated. Looking at the purpose of these technologies it is to give people the chance to have biological children or children in general. What needs to be communicated is that children are not commodity. The pathetic part is the ads that the couples post tug at the need to achieve perfection and there seems to be false hope in genetic information and its potential. The marketing gimmicks need to be addressed in some way because at the end of the day it is the general public that utilizes those things for the most part.

  7. Kyle says:

    I agree with Isabelle, in the sense that collegiate newspapers have a responsibility to look after the interests of their students. Colleges should will to protect the rights of all women on campus; and in enacting this, they must do better in informing and counseling the portion of these women who wish to be egg donors.

    Furthermore, if a college wishes to protect its female students, the most beneficial action any college can take is to prevent the presence of any such ad within a collegiate paper. These ads use monetary gain to lure women into the prospect of oocyte donation without clearly stating the risks and ethical issues associated with the process. In addition, they specifically target healthy, young, and fiscally deprived college women. Therefore, as an organization, the college holds an ethical duty to protect their students from the dangers of too quickly enrolling in a donation program.

    Colleges must stand for ethical guidelines when it comes to oocyte donation, and in doing so they must consider the rights and potential consequences such advertisements have on the women of their campus.

    Perhaps it would be better that colleges provide information sessions regarding the ethical and physical issues associated with the process of oocyte donation, rather than merely succumbing to the immoral monetary benefits of allowing such companies to run adds within their papers.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    The only ethical qualms that I have regarding providing compensation for donor eggs is in determining how to set the amount of compensation. Yes it’s a matter of the moral status of embryos – that is something that needs to be taken into account, especially considering how significant of an issue this is for some. That said, personally I am far more concerned about the potential risks that the procedure involves for the donors. Especially when the donors that are being targeting are young and often will not think enough about the long-term implications of hormone therapy when there is a check being waved around as a reward. This issue is particularly important to me, as hormone therapy was what caused my mother’s cancer. And she made the decision to undergo treatment (even though the risks weren’t known yet) as a well-informed adult. The fact that the risks are known does make it arguable that the donors are giving informed consent, although the fact that donations went up by 40% when the recession hit leads me to believe that if there were no compensation, women wouldn’t be as willing to take these risks. That is a serious problem for me, and if the sole reason that women are donating is for compensation, then something should be done to avoid that. (Possibly better screening of potential donors…)

    If a woman is wishing to donate eggs, knowing the potential risks, for the purpose of IVF (to provide somebody with a child) or to progress research (help with moving forward stem cells) then I have much less of a problem with the entire concept of donating eggs. Therefore, I think that it is rather appalling that students are targeted in college newspapers and Facebook – as I don’t believe (as mentioned before) that people of this age group are fully able to comprehend the enormity of this decision. Although, it is more the avenue of exposure to the ability to donate than the donation itself that bothers me. If women were being told in a health class that his was available to them, and it was explained to them in a way that did not resemble a commercial for a shoe sale or placed in the same advertisement slot as McDonald’s mini-meals, then I feel it would be far more appropriate. And yes, compensation is due – more for willing to take on the troubles and risks of the procedure than for the eggs themselves.

    I also wonder if the price should be different for providing eggs for IVF and for stem cell research. While reading about donating eggs, I was trying to imagine if there were no compensation and how I would respond differently – intellectually and emotionally – if that were the case. I find that I would think it unjust if there were no compensation for donors. So in terms of determining price – I honestly don’t know. Should it be judged by how much trouble the woman went through to donate? Should it be judged by how much the potential parents value a healthy embryo? Or should it be judged by how much scientists (and the rest of society) value progressing stem cell therapy? Or how much an egg is worth? I tend to think that all of these are valid, but in terms of how these actual amounts should be determined – that’s beyond me.

    In terms of limiting the usage of reproductive technologies, I believe that aesthetics are to be left out. Meaning, a child’s eye color, hair color, height, etc. should be completely irrelevant and should not be able to be chosen by the parents. Health is a whole other issue. For both the parents and the child, I am a firm believer that we have a duty to allow every child the opportunity to lead as healthy and happy of a life as possible. If we are given the ability to provide children with a fair start – free from CF, Huntington’s, etc. – then I am a supporter of the technology. In terms of limits on that technology, I have a much more difficult time sorting through the ethics. A personal example is my 26-year-old cousin – she was born with cerebral palsy, and has never grown past about 3 feet tall. She has never left her wheel chair, never uttered a word, never been able to move her eyes in the direction that she desired. While she laughs and giggles when others do, and shows sadness when others show it, I often hope that there isn’t much brain activity. I can’t imagine a highly intelligent being forced to remain trapped within a defective host. Would it have been better had she never been born? I certainly don’t have the authority to say, and I don’t know if anybody really does. So while I am in complete support of the technology, when you apply it to specific circumstances, it makes the lines really blurry. I guess it’s much easier to make decisions for (potential) people who have yet to gain a face.

  9. Brian Norton says:

    The issue of egg donation, for reproductive or research purposes is one surrounded with ethical questions. I think the most important ethical question that must be addressed in regard to any new biotechnology is safety. The health and well being of the patient or donor must be guaranteed, or at least the dangers clearly understood by the patient, before the procedure can be considered ethically justified. The oocyte removal process in itself has significant dangers. The side effects of ovulation enhancing drugs on donors are not completely known. The use of these drugs began fairly recently, and studies about their effects later in life have yet to be completed. One concept of medical ethics encourages limited use of technologies in the absence of conclusive information about long-term effects, which would seem to discourage the practice of egg donation among young women, unless they assertively acknowledge the dangers.

    Something, however, seems to be leading many young women to donate their eggs without very much thought of the possible side effects, dangers or ethical implications of their actions. Monetary reward appears to be what is driving most, if not all, young, college age women to donate their eggs. These women are likely insufficiently informed of the dangers of the procedure, and are more focused on the monetary gain. Since the money distracts women from the possible dangers of a donation, it should therefore be considered unethical to offer money for donor eggs. Were there no monetary reward for a donation, the decision to donate would be a well educated and logical decision made from the heart, rather than for economic purposes. But money, especially for college students, can cause poor, irrational decisions.

    • Matt Weiss says:

      The main ethical issue I see with financial compensation for egg donation is the issue of informed consent. I am a strong proponent of individual freedom and in this case, I believe it is the decision of each individual woman as to whether or not she wants to sell her egg. I only believe this however, when that individual is fully informed on all aspects of the “transaction.” If the risks are made clear, intentions for the egg elaborated, and any other pertinent information made available, then I see no reason why a consenting adult should be told what she can and cannot do with her eggs.

      One might also bring up the issue of the ages of those being targeted by current advertisements. Young college students may be more naïve to the physical and, even more importantly, the emotional consequences of egg donation. While I agree that some donors may not be fully aware of what egg donation will mean, there may be just as many who are aware of the consequences and still chose to partake in this procedure. This is why our government decided the arbitrary age of 18 to determine whether or not a person has the legal right to speak for themselves. I do not see why this case should really be any different.

      • Allison says:

        The main ethical issue here is definitely informed consent. As long as these women know exactly what the procedure entails their autonomy, their ability to choose what to do with their bodies should be preserved. This includes knowing the short term risks as well as the known long term risks and potential for unknown long term risks because it is such a new procedure. Since there is such dispute about the moral status of an embryo it is impossible to come to a consensus about whether or not it should be sold. For this reason, the woman who chooses to donate must decide this for herself. Maybe this means a more extensive informed consent program or merely a program that each donator is mandated to attend (as kekaui says below) is in order.

  10. Benny Tran says:

    Due to the uncertain risk involved with the oocyte donation procedure (i.e. ovarian hyperstimulation, stroke, and even death) I believe donors should receive some sort of compensation for their eggs. However, it is nearly impossible to put a price on such a thing due to the varying perceptions of the moral worth of an oocyte. Moreover, is it even ethical to market a component of life like you would an innate object? These questions make the amount per oocyte a very difficult value to determine. However one thing is clear, the methods used above by the oocyte donation companies present many unethical issues. By their use of popular college social networks, like Facebook, and University Newspapers for their donation advertisements, it is clear that these companies are primarily targeting the college demographic. Although some may argue that this is due to their healthy status, I believe it is rooted more towards their financial burdens. As any college student would know, college isn’t cheap and debt is abundant. So by advertising these ads these companies present an easy solution to these students’ dilemma, often underplaying the risks involved with the procedure. Therefore it is vital that we protect these donors from exploitation by ensuring that donation companies have full informed consent and that donors are counseled and fully educated of the risks involved with the procedure. Moreover is the issue of companies requesting personal information, such as SAT & ACT scores, so that they can pay more for those eggs originating from more gifted and “Extraordinary Donors”. In doing so, these companies are putting a value on each oocyte in order to better market them to IVF families. Therefore is it ethical that these companies in turn market these oocytes as extraordinary in specific traits and charge more for it? Furthermore, is it ethical for parents to choose ideal traits and assemble them into a made-to-order child which fulfills all of their dreams? If you’re like me, you’d find this as a deeply disturbing issue which crosses the line between what we should or should not do with nature.

  11. Fran says:

    I believe it can be ethical for a woman to be paid for donating her eggs. People hold a duty to themselves to protect their body and be responsible for situations they seek out. Is it ethical for a store to sell liquor even though many people abuse the privilege? Yes, because the responsibility is on the person buying the alcohol, not on the store selling it. So long as the process remains free from coercion and force, I believe it is ethical for a woman to donate her eggs for money. In my eyes, the real ethical question is regarding where the money comes from. In the case of a woman donating her egg to a couple, the couple and the woman should negotiate the price together and it should be determined on a case-by-case basis by the individuals involved. When it comes to donating eggs to research, however, things get much more complicated. It should be clearly examined where the money is coming from and what the motives are of the company paying for eggs. Not just women, but everyone in our society should be aware of what companies are buying eggs from women and what they are doing with these eggs.
    Is targeting students in college newspapers and on Facebook unethical? No. The way I see it, college students are probably going to be the most well informed and capable of comprehending the gravity of the situation. Any woman on a college campus most likely has enough resources readily available to help her understand what she is getting into, and thus is probably the most qualified. A similar argument can be said about Facebook. Any woman with a Facebook clearly has easy access to the Internet, which offers endless information on topics like this one. Obviously those are not the reasons these companies market on college campuses and on Facebook, and it is actually more about the “quality” of women they are targeting in these areas. However, I would find it more unethical if there were to be regulation on this advertisement. Advertisement regulation could lead to companies searching out donors in riskier ways. With clear advertisements the public is at least aware of these companies and society can do its part to keep young women well informed.
    So often we hear about the imaginary line. Should there be a line? Where should it be? But the question that I always come to is this one: has “the line” ever really even worked? So many areas of ethical debate draw upon this idea of the line, but I believe it is a pointless discussion. A line is drawn on drug substances: alcohol is legal but marijuana is illegal. Does that stop people from growing, selling, and using marijuana? No. A line was drawn on medical clinics supporting abortion. Did that ever stop back-alley abortions? No. My point is that if the technological “know-how” is there, and if people want that technology, then it is going to happen. The research into reproductive technologies (and beyond) is already underway and there is no stopping it. I believe that the energy and focus should now be spent on educating society about exactly what these technologies are and who the companies are behind them. Only then can we hope that people will make their own informed decisions.

    • Allison says:

      I agree. Since the technological “know-how” is here we should be focusing on regulating it rather than drawing a line somewhere. I think that an interesting way to look at this issue is that these women are undertaking a certain amount of risk for the sole benefit of feeling like they have contributed to making someone’s family more complete or furthering ongoing research or a monetary reward. In the case of the first benefit, I feel as though this is the choice of the individual; because of each woman’s autonomy, she can choose what to do with her body. I think that the idea that the monetary reward could be thought of as for compensation for the actual procedure rather than the eggs is interesting. But if that were solely the case then why would we allow the compensation rates to vary so drastically? If the rates were proportional to the actual procedure wouldn’t they be more similar? If we were trying to avoid the exploitation of women’s bodies we would regulate this compensation rate.

      • Fran says:

        I think it would be impossible to get around the fact that compensation rates will vary. The fact that we live in a capitalist nation defines this. Someone who has a doctorate in a field will make significantly more money than someone who doesn’t if they were applying to the same job. People are not the same, and if someone desires something from someone (whether that be a skill set or an oocyte), then people will compensate more for the more desired option. I dont believe it is necessarily exploitation of these women if some are compensated more than others because the woman always has the choice to not donate her eggs.
        The same logic could be applied to models. In our society some women are viewed as more beautiful than other women. If a plain looking woman went to a modeling agency and demanded that they hire her as a model because it is not fair to discriminate a modeling job offer based on looks, that agency would laugh at her.
        Like I stated earlier, as long as there is never any coercion or force involved, then there is no exploitation and women retain their full autonomy in making the decision to donate eggs, whether the compensation is 1 dollar or 10,000 dollars.

  12. Kekaui Zukeran-Kerr says:

    There are two age-related issues that need to be considered concerning the population of women targeted by advertisements for oocyte donation facilities. The first is that although, yes, 18-30 year-old women are generally more strapped for cash than women in other age brackets, this is not necessarily the only reason why donation groups are targeting college-age women. It’s also because biologically speaking, these women have the healthiest eggs, with the potential to produce the most viable embyos. After about age 30 or 35, the risk for genetic disorders, such as down syndrome, greatly increases, due to the increasing age and deteriorating health of the eggs. That’s not to say that women over 30 or 35 can’t have healthy children free of genetic disease, but the risks for such diseases to increase dramatically.

    A second concern is that young donors may not have lived long enough to display the phenotypic hallmark signs of any genetic disease with which they themselves may be afflicted. I’m sure that all donors undergo extensive screening to prevent diseased individuals from contributing to oocyte donations, but it’s important to remember that genetic tests are not always 100% correct, and can provide diagnoses of false positives and false negatives. Genetic diseases such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and Huntington’s Disease do not manifest themselves until later in a person’s life, and it is important for everyone involved in oocyte donation to recognize this, and take measures to ensure that proper genetic tests and family medical histories of donors are obtained.

    As far as the issue of informed consent is concerned, I believe that there is a simple and easy way to ensure that oocyte donators are well aware of the risks and possible side-effects involved in the donation process. If a mandate was passed requiring potential oocyte donors to attend an information session run by a 3rd party organization (and not the donation company) that addressed both the risks and details of the procedures, as well as the ethical issues in depth, I think we could eliminate most concerns we have about the level of understanding held by the donor.

    • Matt Weiss says:

      I find your take on age to be very interesting. The only reason for age targeting that I had considered was exploitation, seeking naïve, financially unstable women to take advantage of. However, it is truly in the donation facilities best interest to harvest eggs from young, healthy women to produce the best results for their clients. Your other point is also a very valid and worthwhile consideration. There are some disorders which do not present until later in life which the individual may not even be aware of. Finally, I think it would be unreasonable to require an information session. Placing this heavy economic burden on oocyte donation facilities would be asking too much. Perhaps creating a website with this information would be a more cost effective alternative.

  13. Kendra Postell says:

    It is a little disturbing at first to hear that people are choosing egg donors based upon things like height and medical history and ethnicity. This seems somewhat prejudicial. When I thought about this issue further however, I realized that though many do not like to admit it, people pick their mates based on these factors. Some prefer an athletic build, some prefer a good personality, and some want a partner with a college education. When we pick and choose features such as these in our mates, we are essentially picking the traits that will be passed down to our future offspring, so when couples are choosing egg donors why should they not be allowed this same opportunity to pick and choose which eggs will suit them best?

    The idea of compensation is where ethical issues begin. People are not paid when they donate bone marrow or a kidney, is donating eggs really any different? One thing to note is that when one donates part of an organ, blood or bone marrow they are saving someone’s life, and while providing someone with the opportunity to have a child is commendable, it is hardly as heroic. In organ donations saving someone’s life is the reward, but in egg donations it seems like monetary compensation is necessary because without it the costs for donors outweigh the benefits. I do not agree with the notion that selling eggs is like selling children. If eggs could be extracted in an easy and risk-free process, I think a lot of women would be willing to donate for free, but the process is both risky and demanding. Being an egg donor is a huge commitment and women should be compensated for these efforts.

    I think it is unfortunate however that these companies are taking advantage of college-aged women who are donating only for money. Because the process is so unregulated it seems like these women are not being properly informed of what they are getting themselves into and they are being rushed into making very big decisions. I think donors would be much safer if there was a limit to how much money they could make (maybe $5,000) and how many times they could donate (one or two only). I also think there needs to be a standard process for women to go through prior to donating eggs including counseling so women get a full explanation of all procedures and the risks involved. Women need to be able to pose all of their questions to and make their final decision under the counsel of a trained professional to keep them from making dangerous and ill-informed choices. I also think that there should be legal penalties for fertility centers that do not provide their patients with the resources they need to make healthy decisions. In this way women could still provide infertile couples with the opportunity to have a child or contribute to stem cell research without endangering their physical and mental health.

  14. StephieDav says:

    I think that being compensated for in vitro fertilization is perfectly acceptable. When people seek out egg donors with specific characteristics, they’re demanding…well, a product essentially. It may be horrible to think of it in that way, but really why sugar coat the truth? I don’t know what kind of standard should be set for the monetary compensation egg donors get when they work through in vitro clinics. Maybe you could pay them as if they were working a job, because it’s not like egg donors just come to the doctor and have the eggs removed, a long process involving medications and several physical and mental/emotional appointments must occur before the eggs can be removed. As for research, well that sort of has a separate purpose than in vitro fertilization clinics. I wouldn’t pay them as much money, because after all it’s called a “donation” for a reason. Let’s be realistic, we are very money driven and egg “donation” is a thriving new product to market, and gain from. Maybe some people would donate eggs simply to make some unfortunate couple happy, but others are interested solely in the cash they stnd to earn.
    I think that advertising for egg donation in general is acceptable, whether it be on facebook, or in other public areas. School newspapers, and school campuses on the other hand, are a different story. I don’t think that many college students fully understand the responsibilities they are undertaking by becoming an egg donor. Not only do they have to physically and mentally prep for this, but they have to live with it for the rest of their lives. Maybe in college selling my eggs would seem like a good idea because I’m short on cash, and hey it’s about 2-5,000 dollars per donation, but how would I feel later on in life when I realize that I’m the mother of some child I’ve never met, and I may never have the chance to meet. Targeting students, who are already high stress, and not completely in touch with the real world and the consequences that could occur from donating seems unethical to me.
    Allowing technology to run free without any regard for the morality of the effects it can cause, just seems plain stupid. I really don’t think that we should allow market principles dictate what is permissible and impermissible. It seems very stupid to allow this to happen, because the market is only interested in making a profit. If we can make money off of something, we will unless there is something serving as an obstacle. I think that this is a prime increasingly viewing each other as standing reserve.

  15. Shannon Johnston says:

    I do not feel that it is unethical to provide some kind of monetary compensation for egg donors, but I do feel that it is unethical to adjust the price based on the personal attributes of the donor. First, the donor is compromising herself considerably by undergoing this very physically invasive procedure. So, she should be given some kind of reward for her pains and the time taken out of her life. I do not see this is as the selling of children because an egg is not life; it cannot produce a child on its own. If the question were whether or not to provide monetary compensation for an embryonic donation, then yes, it would constitute selling a child and thus be extremely unethical. However, this is not an embryo nor is it a guarantee, it a cell from a woman that may or may not yield success in the future.
    Considering this, I believe that the compensation should be just that — compensation for a service — not a price tag on the egg. By adjusting the reward to attract particularly talented women, it is implying that there are different prices that correspond to different people, an incredibly dehumanizing thought. If price tags were placed on the qualities of each person, it would be comparable to the buying and selling of people in the slave trade. It is horrifying to think that when a woman applies to be a donor, she is told how much she is worth. In this way, I would consider one flat rate for all donations to a bank as ethical, but adjusting the rates for personal qualities as disgusting.

  16. NateMay says:

    I find no ethical qualms with providing compensation for egg donation. First of all, if the donor is having to take hormone shots along with other medication daily, they should absolutely be compensated for the inconvenience. Wouldn’t you feel slighted if you went through all that trouble and didn’t get some sort of compensation? Even if you do find compensation unethical and wouldn’t mind donating “out of the goodness of your heart” the fact of the matter is that there are not enough donations even with compensation. That puts the whole compensation and aggressive advertising issue in the realm of “necessary evil” for some (not me) as it is vital to the fertility industry, a very necessary part of our society. Millions of woman experience fertility issues and then there are gay couples who wish to have biological children, there is a undeniable need for egg donation and we should be doing what is reasonable to fulfill that need. America is a free-market society, and advertising is a completely legitimate part of that, something I feel is good for egg donation. We advertise for blood donation, admittedly a far less risky procedure but still analogous, so I feel its appropriate to extend that practice for egg donation. On a different note, I found the comments in the article that were concerned that these young women didn’t understand what they were doing completely unfounded. These are legal adults, they have the right to make their own decisions, and they have enough life experience and should be grounded enough in their beliefs to donate. I wonder if this is an issue in organ donation as a whole, or if it is specific to egg donation.

  17. QuinnP says:

    My main reaction to this article regards the issue of compensation for research. Is there a difference between donating eggs for IVF and donating eggs for research? In my opinion, absolutely not. It ultimately comes down to, as mentioned, the “moral status” of eggs. But this status is non-existent. Eggs alone cannot have moral status. They may be more “sacred” or “special” than other cells, but simply put, an egg is nothing more than a cell. Because an egg, while highly valuable, is just a single cell, there is zero difference between donating for IVF and donating for research. It is identical to donating blood or donating bone marrow. Whether or not egg donors should be paid at all is a whole separate issue, but the bottom line will remain; payment or no, egg donation for any reason should be considered the same.

  18. Nairie says:

    Before reading through this blog, I did not realize the amount and extent of ethical issues that are related to advertisements for egg donations. From the ethical issues surrounding the prices of the human eggs to the ability of couples to ask for specific talents or attributes of egg donors, the debate behind human egg donation seems endless. Is it ethical for advertisements to ask for high school and college transcripts as well as SAT scores from women who plan on donating their eggs? And is it fair to offer more compensation to donors who have more impressive academic records and are physically more beautiful than other women who are also donating?
    The main issue that I have in regards to advertisements of egg donors is the reasoning behind why people decide to require that the donors have high GPAs and SAT scores. An individual’s intelligence is not based entirely on their genetic makeup; in fact, much of a person’s academic success, as well as overall success, is related to the environment that they were brought up in. Couples should not assume that a child whose biological mother has a strong academic record will have that same record. Instead, couples should be more open in accepting a variety of donors who are willing to donate their egg to a couple that cannot have children on their own.
    In addition, I agree with the post that an organization of some sort should patrol these advertisements for egg donors. There should be regulations as to what kind of requests can be placed on egg donor advertisements, as well as the amount of compensation that should be offered for egg donors. And as the article post mentioned, there should also be some sort of advising that takes place with women who donate their eggs. Many women donate eggs for monetary reasons, and do not realize the ethical issues that can result from their decision. Overall, this blog post increased my awareness of the problems and issues that surround human egg donations.

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