Trouble, trouble in baby-making land reported The New York Times on May 10, “Payment Offers to Egg Donors Prompt Scrutiny”. Apparently them gals who went up north for some educatin’ graduated with something more than a diploma written in Latin. Seems a few took a class or two in economics and put it to good use: charging up to $50,000 for their ivy-coated eggs, a price women with old rotten eggs are more than willing to pay. Men are also willing to part with big bucks to become daddies, hiring surrogates to tote upscale eggs blessed with their sperm.
Well, knock me over with a feather. I thought that women risked their health, their own fertility, even their lives, taking a lot of hormones to stimulate their bodies to pop out eggs for perfect strangers out of some sort of "love" for mankind. That these women do it for money (enough to pay for about half a year at Harvard) puts them right up there on the scoundrel list along with Wall Street barons fleecing low income would-be home buyers.
The egg business may soon surpass the adoption business. About 10,000 families each year acquire a baby through donated eggs, almost as many as acquire babies through adoption, 14,000. According to the Times,
“Dr. Aaron Levine, an assistant professor of public policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology examined more than 100 egg donation ads from 63 college newspapers. He found that a quarter of them offered compensation exceeding the $10,000 maximum cited in voluntary guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a professional association.The article doesn’t say what a Columbia grad could garner, hopefully not enough to entice my youngest daughter, a lioness diplomate, from selling her eggs. On the other hand as the contributor to half her DNA, maybe I could get a cut, sort of like a royalty. I can see the ads: Fund your retirement from your daughter’s eggs.” That ought to give SAT prep classes a boost.
"In addition to limiting compensation, the society’s guidelines forbid paying additional fees to egg donors for specific traits. But the study found that every 100-point difference in a university’s average SAT scores was correlated with an increase of more than $2,000 in the fees advertised for potential egg donors in the campus newspaper.
"The guidelines state that payments of $5,000 or more above and beyond medical and related expenses ‘require justification’ and that payments above $10,000 ‘are not appropriate.’ Ads in newspapers at Harvard, Princeton and Yale promised $35,000 for donors, Dr. Levine found, while an ad placed on behalf of an anonymous couple in The Brown Daily Herald offered $50,000 for ‘an extraordinary egg donor.’"
"'The concern is that some young women may choose to donate against their own best interests,’ Dr. Levine said. ‘They’ll look at the money on offer and will overlook some of the risks.’" [It seems to me and Lorraine that donating eggs is always against a woman’s best interests.]The American Society for Reproduction Medicine’s reason for limiting compensation to donors may not be based entirely on concern for these bright, attractive young women whose eggs command high prices. Back to Econ 101, more money to donors means less money to doctors, egg merchants, and the rest of the industry promising parenthood to those who cannot or do not choose to have children naturally.
With many women today putting making money ahead of making babies, there’s no end to Hollywood stars, political wives, and others seeking motherhood in their late 40’s, 50’s, and even 60’s. Recently we learned that John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston, still grieving over the loss of their son Jett, are expecting a baby. It’s safe to assume that 47 year old Preston didn’t get pregnant au naturel. She may have had her eggs frozen when they were still viable (but that’s unlikely) or she may have purchased some eggs (more likely), perhaps requiring that the seller have some Grease in her DNA or at least be a Scientologist.
If Travolta and Preston are having a “replacement” baby, they won’t be the first. After the death of their son Wade, former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth decided more children would bring joy back into their family. Emma Claire was born in 1998 when Elizabeth was 48, and Jack was born in 2000 when she was 50. (Subsequently John added to his lineage through a more loving way, albeit unwillingly, when 43 year old Rielle Hunter gave birth to his [initially unacknowledged] daughter, Quinn.)
On the serious side, whether for love or money, egg donation presents substantial risks. Besides the physical risks (gory details below), there is the likelihood of psychological distress when the donor fully realizes that there is somebody “out there” carrying her genes. Like women who surrendered babies in closed adoptions, donors may find themselves scanning faces in shopping malls looking for people who resemble them. Unless donor and child know each other, there is a risk that the donor’s children and the children created from her eggs may meet and marry since donors may contribute multiple eggs. [For a thorough investigation of the psychological effects of donor insemination, read Annette Baran and Rueben Pannor's excellent study, Lethal Secrets.]
Unlike birthmothers in open adoptions, egg donors know nothing of the parent who raises her offspring. The recipient of the egg may be an abusive parent. I remember reading a news article years ago about a man who beat to death his infant son, created with a surrogate mother. The recipient of the egg may die before the child grows up, leaving the child to be raised by relatives, more interested in spending the child’s inheritance than nurturing this technological wonder.
According to Stanford University’s “Egg Donor Information Project”, donors commonly experience pain, abdominal swelling, tension and pressure in the ovarian area, mood swings, and bruising at injection sites. A less frequently occurring condition is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a serious complication marked by chest and abdominal fluid buildup and cystic enlargement of the ovaries that can cause permanent injury and even death. Severe OHSS affects between one and 10 percent of donors.
Less frequently, drugs cause adnexal torsion, a condition that results when a stimulated ovary twists on itself and cuts off blood supply. Surgery is required to untwist and in some cases remove the ovary. Additionally, some studies suggest that one of the drugs may increase a woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer. Doctors have reported a few cases where a drug aggravated existing tumors of the pituitary gland and caused strokes.
Eggs are retrieved through transvaginal ultrasound aspiration, a surgical procedure performed under conscious sedation. Major injury to the bladder, bowel, uterus, blood vessels or other pelvic structures occurs in approximately 1 in 500 to 1000 surgeries. Other surgical risks include acute ovarian trauma, infection, infertility, vaginal bleeding, and lacerations. Additionally, anesthetic complications may occur.
These are the known dangers. As Times readers, Diane Beeson and Tina Stevens, pointed out in a letter to the editor, much is unknown:
“Without long-term follow up, it is simply not possible to offer potential egg donors a truly informed consent about the long-term risks of taking the powerful synthetic hormones associated with the egg retrieval process. Yet, there is no effort now under way to establish a registry to find out what the long-term risks are. Why is that?
"Consider what happened to magazine editor Liz Tilberis, comedian-actor Gilda Radner, playwright Wendy Wasserstein and many other women who underwent hyperstimulation and died of cancer in the prime of their lives. Shouldn’t we first attempt to provide a full informed consent before financially encouraging women to take powerful hormones?”