Editor’s note: In the first half of this two-part series about female egg donation, the pros and cons of giving eggs are weighed against each other and the process itself is discussed. The second part of this series, where an individual’s firsthand accounts of going through the procedure are presented, will be in The Aggie next Wednesday.
For college students, the “help wanted” section in newspapers screams easy money. Sometimes, the offer is enough to afford a movie, but on rare instances, it can pay for the majority of a year’s worth of college tuition.
If you open up Friday’s copy of The California Aggie, there will be a posting that says “compensation $5,000-8,000” for female egg donors. It seems like a pot of gold, but how easily attainable is it?
Fertility clinics have been posting ads in college newspapers for years asking for healthy female egg donors. The amount of money varies, but usually, the donor is compensated above $5,000 for her time and effort.
Della Duncan, a sophomore international relations and sociology double major, has been considering donating her eggs since she was 16 years old. She first learned about egg donation while reading a magazine article about women becoming donors to put themselves through college.
“From the get-go I thought ‘that’s amazing,'” Duncan said. “It makes sense. I’m a healthy person and live a healthy lifestyle. I don’t have any genetic disorders. They want people with higher education and I’m in college. It’s very doable for someone in my position.”
Fertility clinics want to make their donor pool as appealing as possible, meaning that they have a range of donors – from married mothers to college-aged females. However, attractiveness, education and health are the main considerations when recipient couples look for donors, said Denise M. Koenes, clinic administrator for Northern California Fertility Medical center.
There’s a reason why donors are so well compensated.
“You have to stop your life for a period of time to go through all of the treatment process,” Koenes said. “It’s a large commitment.”
Blood Work, Hormones and Needles, Oh My!
At age 18, Duncan tried to sign up for egg donation, but most clinics wanted her to be at least 21 years old. In general, fertility clinics ask that their donors be within a certain age range. Donors for California IVF, the Davis Fertility Center and the Northern California Fertility Medical center have to be between 21 and 31 years of age.
Is the compensation too good to be true? Not quite, but it is too good to be easy. The reason egg donors make more money than sperm donors is because the process is much more complicated and invasive, Koenes said.
Although individual fertility practices vary, there is a general outline of what egg donors go through. First off, to donate eggs, the donor has to take several psychological evaluations and medical screenings to determine if she meets all requirements for donation.
“Many women who volunteer don’t get past this part,” Koenes said. “They smoke, they could be outside the age range … and you have to get picked. Somebody has to want you.”
Afterwards, the hormonal treatments begin. The donor is put through a series of hormonal injections that stimulate the ovaries, which makes it possible to produce many mature eggs in a single cycle. Throughout the entire procedure, the donor can receive up to 60 injections from blood draws and medications. Koenes describes the side effects of these injections as “PMS-ing to the max.”
During retrieval, the donor is sedated and the eggs are retrieved by guiding a hollow needle through the wall of the vagina and into the ovaries.
The hormones being injected into your body do have side effects and carry the possibility of larger complications, but that’s why Koenes advises that donors should not donate more than three to four cycles a year.
Judith Reitan, a lecturer in the UC Davis Department of Human and Community Development and a registered nurse, advises women to be cautious.
“The woman has to take powerful hormones to stimulate multiple egg ovulation,” explained Reitan in an e-mail interview. “These hormones cause fairly severe emotional ups and downs, nausea, weight gain and hyperstimulation of the ovary is not without some small risk.… Some say infertility, but most fertility clinics dispute this.”
However, Duncan does not see the potential side affects as a problem.
“I can get over that,” she said. “People do this and it’s been done before. I think it would be one thing where I’d want to try at least once.”
But unlike Duncan, her friends and family have some concerns.
“The worst case scenario would be I would not be able to have a kid.” Duncan pauses for a second then laughs. “How ironic would that be?”
The slight smell of bitter coffee floats through the waiting room of the Northern California Fertility Medical Center. It’s like most medical clinic waiting areas – relatively quiet, with beige, white and other non-abrasive colors covering the walls and floor. There’s nothing spectacularly different about this place. Who’d have guessed the clinic would be in the business of babies?
The patients who walk in the doors are either hoping to become parents or helping these dreams come true. These medical centers use processes that deal with scientific creation of life, a subject that always comes with its own ethical concerns.
First-year Nia Hajenga is open to the idea of donating her eggs. However, she does have some questions.
“It would be kind of weird to have children who shared our genes,” she said. “Does it make them your baby? A relative?”
Duncan isn’t worried about that idea.
“I don’t feel like it’s my child because it was a child I wasn’t going to have,” she said. “It’s just an egg, it’s the opportunity.”
One question she does have, however, is whether she wants it to be anonymous or have the family be able to meet her.
“I think it would be great if it was a wonderful family who chose me, and then I got to know them and then they had a child that was wonderful,” she said. “But what if it was a family who I didn’t feel was capable to raise the child? I would just feel so guilty.… I would actually feel that ‘my child’ was in the wrong hands.”
Another concern is whether the donation process itself is morally wrong.
“I personally think that this is, in effect, paying money for a child,” Reitan said. “In most countries it is illegal to pay women for their eggs. In advertising in college newspapers, I believe that they are taking advantage of people who may be needing money and… are fairly ignorant about what is involved, as well as being young and thinking that nothing bad will happen to them. However, for the clinics, it is a good place to advertise because college women are, for the most part, young, intelligent, healthy donors.”
Tiffany Johnson, a junior human development major, has thought about doing the procedure. She only hesitates because she and her husband are thinking of having children.
“I’ve donated my hair before,” she said. “It’s a part of your body you’re not going to use at the moment. You’re not going to need them.”
There are many ethical and personal questions that donors should ask themselves before considering such a risky procedure, including the strengths of their motives, whether they are altruistic, monetary, or both.
“I honestly think the cost is worth it,” Duncan said. “You are benefiting a family that does not have children and wants children. You’re giving them a gift, and we can. We are physically, emotionally and mentally capable for this, so why not?”
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