Monday, May 24, 2010

Egg Donor or Egg Seller? Fulfilling Another Woman's Dreams or Filling Your Pockets


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.

"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 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.
"'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.

Who’s Buying?
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.) 

Real Risks
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?”

15 comments:

Von said...

and the problems for the results of surrogacy?

Cedar said...

I know it is rare, but we can't automatically assume that Kelly Preston hasn't done it "the natural way." My grandmother was born in January, 1883. Her 11 children were born when she was 22, 24, 25, 26, 29, 32, 33, 35, 38, 41, ... and 46! Some women have it in them to actually produce viable eggs for a long time. I think it must be genetic -- I was born when my mom was 44.

I guess we'll see if Kelly and John's next kid looks anything like Kelly ...

KimKim said...

Why is it safe to assume that John Travolta and his wife are using a surrogate? And why say that this will be a replacement baby?
I'm wondering what the Travolta family have done to make you be so disrepectful towards them?
If we have other children are we having replacement children for the ones that were lost to adoption?
The woman who lives down the road from us got pregnant in her very late 40's.
No it's not safe to assume anything and it's not cool to be so nasty about people just because they are famous.

I used to really love reading the first mother forum. Comments like these about the Travoltas really turn me off. I'm disappointed.

maryanne said...

This column should be required reading for any young woman considering egg donation. Good work, Jane.

I was not aware that Gilda Radner took hormone treatments before developing ovarian cancer. Was she trying to conceive? That is doubly tragic.

Humorous aside on the "Ivy League" eggs......I got me some of that Ivy League sperm, via my husband who had a full scholarship to Columbia, but none of my kids are math geniuses like their dad....because the poor things took after me in that department:-)

There is a lot more to genetics than one parent and her college, and you may well pay big bucks for a kid who takes after dumb uncle Stashy rather than Ivy League mama.

Anonymous said...

As much as I feel bad for Travolta and his wife for their loss.

I feel even more sorry for the baby that will "replace" their lost son. He will forever be in an impossible position.

These Hollywood types can do anything they want and it is ok with those who adore them. They are a problem but most people with money think they can buy anything and everything will be ok. Doesn't work that way in life.

Surrogacy is just another form of exploitation and most "smart" young women only see money not a viable egg that may be her only viable egg ever.

Sadly, that's what our society has become buying and selling anything one can to make a buck. Only thinking of the moment, not the future.

KimKim said...

My son who is not gay or bi but was in the steam room of a gym....

Ok this has nothing to do with adoption.... nothing to do with reunion.... nothing to do with being a first mother. Or was it the son she is in reunion with? The one who isn't gay or bi? We were talking about adults though weren't we? Not an under age boy?

Let me know when it's ok to come back......

Lorraine Dusky said...

Kim Kim, you are right. That comment had nothing to do with the issue at hand.

I'm removing it.

Cindy said...

The statements about the Travoltas and their so called "replacement baby" are just mean-spirited.
These people lost their son tragically.
And that give you the right to belittle them and judge them when you have no proof they conceived their child in any way but the old-fashioned one?
Jane's statements are ageist, bigoted and pure speculation.
What did the Travoltas ever do to you Jane?
The gossip aspect of this post defeats any sense in the facts about egg donation.
Bad form.

The Improper Adoptee said...

I think it is sad, that still in this day and age no one EVER thinks about the future of the baby and how he or she will feel being brought into the world in such a strange and unatural way. It is sad too, that money still trumps anyone considering that the baby will also want to know who created them and who they are a part of. This isn't advanced science. It is age old self-centeredness on the part of the adults involved.

Janet, a first mother said...

Oh please, Jane is entitled to speculate that the egg is not their own.

His wife is what? In her late 40s? Yes, it happens naturally, but isn't it amazing how many wealthy older women are able to have babies past when most women are unable to conceive? Must be something in the money....

Jane Edwards said...

Several readers have asked why I have it "in" for John Travolta. Actually I like him as an actor; I particularly enjoyed him in "Primary Colors".

I have it "in" for anyone who risks another woman's life in order to have a baby. I put John Travolta and Kelly Preston in that category.

I'm not ageist. I didn't make the rules; Mother Nature did. And for good reason.

The latest news is that Kelly Preston is carrying twins. This makes it more like that her conception did not occur naturally. I don't know whose eggs (or whose sperm for that matter) created these embryos but at 47, it's unlikely they were Preston's unless she had had her eggs frozen. This is according to a CNN doctor/commentator.

Readers have pointed out that women in their 40's do conceive. Early 40's, no question. My mother was 41 when she had my brother (yes, that brother -- the pot-smoking, war protesting hippie I've written about before.) And Rielle Hunter was 43 when she gave birth to John Edwards' daughter, likely not a result of fertility treatments, at least none that Edwards knew about.

Speaking of John Edwards, it's interesting to note that none of our readers objected to my mean statements about him and his wife Elizabeth. They also lost a son and had replacement children via donated eggs. Is it because of John's affair de coeur that the Edwards' have no defenders here? Or is John Travolta's publicist trolling blogs, pouncing on any suggestion that the in utero Travolta's are anything but natural, using our natural sympathy for John and Kelly over the loss of their son to deflect questions about the embyros' DNA?

Anonymous said...

Jane, why should it surprise you that they don't let dumb women donate eggs? Yes, they prefer women who have high SAT scores, high IQ scores, etc. This is NOT eugenics. If you have a child naturally, you also chose your child's genetics. You did that when you chose your partner to have children with. People who do in vitro using donors, also choose partners with desirable traits (physical features, high IQs, etc.)

And if the egg donation business surpasses the adoption industry, that may be a good thing. Adoption is an industry that exploits prospective parents, children and birth parents. International adoption contributes to child trafficking and kidnapping in many countries. Adoption is not this great thing that people think it is.

And finally, Jane, what the Travoltas do is their own business. You don't know if they conceived this child naturally, used an egg donor, or used frozen embryos from a previous IVF cycle. The resulting child will be theirs no matter what.

Lorraine Dusky said...

Did you, anonymous, ever think about the psychological well-being of any child, Travolatas included, who is the product of an egg from this anonymous donor or sperm from that anonymous donor?

Me thinks not. That is the issue here, not whom the child so created "belongs" to. Sounds as if you are a mother of such a child, but do not want to admit it, even anonymously.

COMMENTS CLOSED.

RunningMama said...

This article assumes that all women that seek egg donation are in their 40's and seeking to "cheat" biology and achieve an "un-natural" pregnancy. I am a 32 year old woman who has been trying to get pregnant since I was 30 (when I had my son) and am not able to get pregnant because I have premature ovarian failure. And, yes, I want a smart egg donor...because I am smart. I want someone that looks like me. I'm not looking for a gorgeous, perfect donor, but I would like to have someone that has a similar personality and IQ. I would like the opportunity to have a child that is genetically linked to my son and husband. I think that people need to see that egg donation is a potential solution for women like me who are suffering a great loss and not just about older mothers seeking "a second chance."

Lorraine Dusky said...

Your story and plight does not change my mind. Egg donation leads to children who will be confused about who they really are,what their true biological heredity is, who they come from. I do not doubt that you will love your children, but you have not considered fully the implications of what you seek to do from the viewpoint of the individual you seek to create. The fact that you are 32 (instead of 40) and trying to have an "unnatural" pregnancy does not change the outcome or the ethical implications.

But I know you will go ahead and do what you want to fulfill your own desires. Have you considered giving a home to a child in foster care?