by Jake Meyer
The New York Times published a May 10, 2010 article about payments to women who donate their eggs titled “Payment Offers to Egg Donors Prompt Scrutiny,” and also asked the question of The New York Times readers Should Egg Donors Be Paid? The process of donating eggs is time consuming, involves discomfort, and carries some physical risks to the donor, so do you compensate the donor? Donation can cause abdominal swelling, mood swings, hot flashes and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can cause bloating, abdominal pain, and in some cases, blood clots, kidney failure, and other life-threatening ailments. And if you do compensate an egg donor, how much do you pay an egg donor?
The current practice in the U.S. is to allow egg donors to be paid. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has set guidelines for payments to egg donors. The guidelines require justifications for payments over $5,000 and set a maximum compensation at $10,000 and also do not allow for the higher payments for specific traits. However, advertisers are ignoring these guidelines.
A study by Dr. Aaron Levine at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that out of a sampling of 100 ads from 63 different college campuses, over a quarter of those ads exceeded the $10,000 maximum compensation guidelines set by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The ads also offered higher average payments at schools with higher average SAT scores – ads averaged $2000 more for every 100 point difference in the average SAT scores. Ads in the newspapers at Yale, Princeton, and Harvard offered $35,000 and an ad in the newspaper at Brown offered $50,000.
Are these guidelines necessary? Should couples looking to reproduce be allowed to pay whatever price they wish for a donor egg? Critics fear that young women will see the amount of money offered for egg donation and may overlook or not understand the potential physical and psychological risks. Should the offers for donated eggs allowed to be higher for specific attributes? Is an offer asking to pay $50,000 for the eggs of a donor who is tall, athletic, Ivy League educated, and with a score of at least 1400 of 1600 on the SAT appropriate? Or are offers like this more akin to eugenics, where couples using donated eggs to conceive are paying higher premiums and selectively breeding certain traits. The ASRM guidelines seem reasonable when the risks that an egg donor undertakes are weighed against the concern that women will donate against their best interests because of a large pay day. Setting a limit on what an egg donor can be paid allows for an egg donor to be adequately compensated, and also addresses the issue eugenics-like trait selection. Efforts should be made to ensure that these guidelines are more strictly followed.