Scholarships and financial aid are among many traditional methods students use to fund their college educations. But there is one option that is becoming increasingly popular among college students that may pay much more than any scholarship would. You wouldn’t be competing with other applicants by grades alone or with essays, but rather with your genetics.
Many sperm and egg donation programs are recruiting college students, offering high monetary rewards for giving the gift of life to families who cannot conceive on their own. While a donation gives students an opportunity to change a family’s life, it also helps students pay their way through college. However, the specific requirements for who may donate bring into question several responsibilities and whether this process translates into a procedure to create super babies — those with the genes for high intelligence, excellent health and physical attractiveness.
Colin Frederick, a third-year economics major, recently considered becoming a sperm donor.
“I thought [the concept] was interesting, especially because I don’t know what will be happening with the rest of my life — so it’d be cool to [say] I potentially had kids but without actually having personal kids,” Frederick said.
Because one thawed sample may contain 20 million motile sperm, there may be concern for sperm donors fathering too many children. However, some programs, such as the Sperm Bank of California, limit sperm donors to 10 families. This ensures that there will not be too many children with the same DNA in the same geographic area.
While eggs are produced over longer periods of time, the egg donation process looks quite different. One procedure generally involves removing six to eight eggs.
This idea of passing on genes for future generations, without necessarily having to raise kids, gives some students a sense of accomplishment. It also appealed to Kaleigh Robinson, a fourth-year animal science major, who decided to register to become an egg donor.
“I realized that … as a smart person and generally healthy person, I felt there was some sort of responsibility to pass those genes on, and if I didn’t want to do that myself I could still have my genes in the next generation,” Robinson said.
Robinson initially felt attracted to the idea because of the monetary incentive, but in the end her primary desire to become an egg donor was to help families unable to conceive.
“I think it’s really terrible for people who would be great parents to be unable to have their own children,” Robinson said.
While Robinson registered with the Davis Fertility Clinic, which offered a set price of $5,000 to egg donors, other programs offer up to $10,000 and others even compensate the donor for more than that.
The fertility drugs that egg donors take cause about a dozen of the thousand recruited eggs to become ready for ovulation, instead of just one egg. Thus, the eggs donated are some of the eggs that would normally die during that menstrual cycle, not eggs that would be used in the future for a pregnancy.
Sperm donors make more based on how often they go into the facility to donate. The Sperm Bank of California, for example, pays a minimum of $800 along with a bonus of $750 after a referred friend has been in the program for six months.
Jezzie Zimbardo, who is a community counselor at the UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services, has been an egg donor and surrogate herself, and has a partner who donated sperm. Zimbardo notes that very few donors ever regret their decision.
“Most donors are screened pretty carefully up front, and have a very thorough understanding of what they are getting into. They are encouraged to think pretty hard up front about whether they will feel disturbed by having biological offspring they may never know,” Zimbardo said.
Frederick decided not to become a sperm donor just yet because he did not feel ready to be a biological parent.
“If I do make the decision [to become a sperm donor] I would want to be a potential support figure for that kid if something ended up happening, but am I prepared to do that? No, so I don’t think I want to donate yet,” Frederick said.
Donors are given the option to either remain anonymous, to have their information available to the biological child upon the child’s 18th birthday or to have information always available to the family of the intended parents.
Zimbardo believes that giving the intended family the option for contact is the best option.
“It is generally best for offspring to have some information about their biological origins, as secrets in this area often lead to damaging fallout. However, whether there should be personal, ongoing contact with a donor is going to vary depending on the people and circumstances involved,” Zimbardo said.
Unlike Frederick, Robinson opted to remain anonymous to any receiving family.
“It’s not my kid,” Robinson said. “If I’m going to give this gift to someone, I want them to understand that this is their child, and they don’t have to worry about me butting into their lives.”
Zimbardo states that the donors are not legally the parents, even if they share DNA with the offspring of the intended parents.
Although donors are not held responsible for contact with their biological offspring, the question of eugenics and super babies still remains.
Different programs vary on their specifications — some offer more compensation to donors with certain physical characteristics, such as being taller or having a rare eye color. Robinson approaches this argument with the idea of natural selection and said that in the end, donors give genes to families who may have weaker genes, specifically in the case of fertility.
“I think that’s a really great way to approach it ethically, to keep the genetics of our species at a better level,” Robinson said.
ALYSSA KUHLMAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.