To Donate or Not to Donate? Financial, Ethical, and Physical Concerns of Egg Donations

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This post was selected as the No. 7 top article of the week in the June 20th Edition of the Best of Money Carnival at MoneyCrashers. Quite an honor!

The following is a guest post by Becca with The Academic Wino, a blog dedicated to examining current research related to wine with a little fun thrown in to the mix. Be sure to stop by her site and say “hi”!

“Egg Donors Needed! Compensation Provided! Earn ~$5000!”
More and more, these types of advertisements for egg donors have been spotted on Craigslist, magazines, throughout college campuses, etc.  In times of financial stress and particularly in a poor economy, egg donation becomes more desirable for women, and donor applications are on the rise.  According to the Center for Disease Control, in 1996, women in federally monitored programs donated around 3,800 times.  In 2004, that number had risen to more than 10,000.

What Motivates Women to Donate Their Eggs?

What makes someone consider donating eggs in the first place?  Speaking from experience, the financial rewards are a high motivator for donating eggs.  However, due to the physical and psychological stress donating eggs can cause, financial compensation shouldn’t be the one and only reason for donating eggs.  The altruistic act of donating ones eggs to a couple who would have otherwise never been able to bear children is an equally important factor for most women who end up donating.
Most women looking to donate their eggs are unqualified and will not be selected.  Most programs describe the ideal candidate as being within the ages of 21-29, non-smoker, in good general health, of average height and weight, and with no family history of disease.  Potential donors must answer pages upon pages of questions regarding personal and family medical history, as well as undergo a battery of physical and psychological evaluations prior to being approved for donation.  According to a CNN Health article written in 2008, this automatically results in about 90% of candidates being rejected from any egg donation program.  

Ethical Concerns and Criticisms of Egg Donation

Some people are against paying financial compensation to egg donors, arguing that it is unethical.  One criticism is that if a woman is in extreme need of the large amount of cash offered for egg donation, she could lie about her medical history, and withhold information about her health that would otherwise cause her to be rejected from the program.  Another criticism is that the potential donor would disregard possible health risks to herself in order to receive the large sum of money at the end of the donation process.
Another criticism that has been made against financially compensating egg donors is that paying them implies that their eggs are property or commodities, thus devaluing human life.  According to an article by The Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ECASRM) in the journal Fertility and Sterility written in 2007, compensation should be based on the amount of time, inconvenience, and discomfort associated with egg retrieval, rather than for the actual eggs themselves.  The committee also suggests capping the compensation level at a point where women are fairly compensated for their time and discomfort, but not so high as to allow discounting of possible physical risks by the potential donor.
A study performed in 1993 in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated the total number of hours spent by an egg donor in the medical setting was approximately 56.  This study argued that if men received $25 for sperm donation which takes approximately one hour of time, then that would result in a female egg donation-equivalent of $1,400.  In 2000, a sperm donation payment was $60-$75, which would mean the equivalent of $3,360-$4,200 for egg donation compensation.  ECASRM argued that this does not take into consideration of the fact that egg donation entails significantly more discomfort, risk, and physical intrusion than sperm donation, thus financial compensation should be even higher.  The committee ultimately recommends financial compensation no greater than $5,000, with special justification for anything between $5,000-$10,000.

Physical Risks

Ethical issues with financial compensation for egg donation aside, there are physical risks involved with egg donation that cannot be ignored.  Once approved, egg donors go through 7-14 days of daily hormone injections, in addition to daily blood work and invasive ultrasounds, and finally an anesthetic-requiring surgical procedure for retrieval of the eggs.

A gonadotropin-releasing hormone is injected in order to halt ovulation.  Follicle-stimulating hormones are simultaneously injected in order to grow and mature several egg follicles at once, instead of the usual one per month.  After 7-14 days of these injections, a “trigger shot” containing human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, triggers the release of the mature follicles and they are retrieved during an invasive surgical procedure.

Possible risks of egg donation include experiencing PMS-like symptoms, dehydration, pain at the injection site, increase risk of multiple-birth pregnancy, ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, and all the other risks involved in routine anesthetic-requiring surgical procedures.  It is not clear what the long term risks are for egg donors, so most egg donation programs limit the number of times a woman may donate to 5-6 times.

To Donate or Not To Donate?

Egg donation not only harbors physical risks, but also disrupts the life of the donor for at least one months’ time.  If they are approved, they must stop taking any and all medications, refrain from hazardous activities such as drinking excessive alcohol, and refrain from engaging in sexual activities that could result in unintentional pregnancies with multiple embryos.

Egg donation also harbors psychological risks, as the donor must accept the idea that they are helping to create a human being that they will likely never be allowed to know or interact with.  Egg donation isn’t for everyone, and even financial compensation can’t completely cover up the risks involved.

Why I Donate

Knowing that I would be receiving a large sum of money was extremely helpful in deciding whether or not to donate for the first time.  I also thought about the risks (both physical and psychological/emotional) and decided whether or not it was worth it to me.  With support from both friends and family, which are critical in a decision such as this, I decided to donate and was ultimately approved by the organization I chose to work with.

Over time, I’ve received anonymous ‘Thank You’ cards from two of my recipient parents, which helped in my decision to donate multiple times.  “We write to let you know that you have helped us to realize a singular dream that we started to pursue over nine years ago.  While we don’t yet know that we’ll be successful, your commitment to us, two people whom you’ve never met, nor will ever meet, is so greatly appreciated.”

To date, my financial compensation has gone toward many things including starting a Roth IRA and paying down credit card debt.  I encourage anyone who is interested in egg donation to be certain their motivations are more than strictly financial and that they fully understand and accept the risks are involved.

How about you all? Have you ever donated eggs or known anyone that donates eggs? What are your financial thoughts on the subject? Is $5000 too little, too much, or just the right amount of compensation for going through this process? 


Share your experiences by commenting below!

Jacob’s Thoughts – Listed below are my random thoughts as I was reading this article.

  • It’s truly amazing to me how much more effort it takes for women to donate their eggs than it takes for men to donate their sexual cells. Weird right?!
  • I really admire women who donate their eggs, as I’ve learned in the past few months that couples that are unable to have a child on their own are REALLY grateful for the help from the donors. However, I don’t think I would personally ever donate my sperm/egg cells unless I had to.
  • If you’ve stopped by my site before, you know that I am a big fan (or maybe sucker would be a better word) for Time Value of Money analyses.
    • As such, an interesting thought exercise is this scenario – a 21 year old girl decides to donate eggs once per year for five years until she is 25 years old.
    • Each time she donates, she receives $5000.
    • If we assume that she places this money in a Roth IRA invested in index mutual funds earning 10% per year, the magic of compound interest will present her with the sum of $2,022,744 by the time she retires at age 70. Quite amazing uh?!
    • You can view the gory details of this calculation at the shared Google Spreadsheet I created at the following link – Egg Donation Time Value of Money Calculator.
    • As you can see from this analysis, the monetary compensation provided by donating your eggs is quite enticing. However, Becca makes a very important point that you should have a reason aside from the money (at the end of the day) for why you want to donate eggs. Thanks for reading!

***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/biologyflashcards/3438788255/sizes/m/in/photostream/