Soaring prices for donor eggs stir ethical concerns

Though many egg donors derive great satisfaction from knowing that they helped someone start a family, the price of human eggs has soared in recent years as demand has increased, and the sizable payments raise controversy, says the New York Times.

According to a survey published this month in the journal Fertility and Sterility:

  • The U.S. average compensation for donors was $4,217.

  • At least one centre told the authors of the paper that it paid $15,000; many centres did not respond.

    Though laws prohibit the sale of transplant organs, sperm donors have always received small payments and prospective parents in the United States are allowed to compensate women for their far greater expenditure of time and energy. Many countries, including Canada and Britain, do prohibit payments to egg donors.

  • The American Society for Reproductive Medicine considers compensation of $5,000 or more to "require justification" and sums exceeding $10,000 "beyond what is appropriate."

  • Meanwhile, advertisements recruiting students from elite universities to donate promise tens of thousands of dollars, and donor agencies have sprung up, appealing to would-be parents with online videos and photo galleries of donors.

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5,767 babies were born in 2003 from donor eggs; the number of actual egg donations is probably much higher, however, because the success rate is fairly low.

    Ethicists and some women's health advocates worry that lucrative payments are enticing young women with credit-card debt and steep tuition bills to sell eggs without seriously evaluating the risks.

    Adding to the debate was a proposal by lawmakers in Maryland to ban payments for eggs. Proponents of compensation say if payments are lowered or eliminated, the supply of eggs will dwindle or dry up.

    Source: Roni Caryn Rabin, As Demand for Donor Eggs Soars, High Prices Stir Ethical Concerns, New York Times, May 15, 2007.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 22 May 2007
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