Shocking Revelation: Human Egg Buyers Pay What the Market Will Bear


Just got a press release from America's oldest bioethics think tank, the Hastings Center, expressing apparent horror that fertility clinics will often pay donors who are students at leading universities more than $10,000 for their eggs. From the press release:

Many egg donation agencies and private couples routinely exceed compensation recommendation limits for potential donors, a new study finds.

From a sample of over 300 college newspapers, findings revealed that almost one-quarter of advertisements offered payment in excess of $10,000, a violation of guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). 

Compensation strongly correlated with average SAT score of the university's students, according to the study published in The Hastings Center Report by researcher Aaron D. Levine, of the Georgia Institute of Technology. In addition, approximately one-quarter of the advertisements listed specific requirements for potential donors, such as appearance or ethnicity. This also goes against ASRM guidelines, which prohibit linking compensation to donor personal characteristics.

Holding all else equal, such as demand for in vitro fertilization within a state and donor agency variables, Levine found that each increase of 100 SAT points in the average for a university increased the compensation offered to egg donors at that school by $2,350. 

Of the advertisements violating ASRM guidelines, many offered $20,000, several offered $35,000, and one was as high as $50,000. Current ASRM guidelines recommend that sums of $5,000 or more require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate.

The extent to which compensation limits are appropriate remains an open question, says Levine, but industry steps to self-regulate could alleviate concerns about exploitation. Monetary thresholds may be valuable if these limits protect a substantial number of potential donors from undue pressure to donate. Levine suggests verifying donor agency compliance (which is currently self-reported) or changing the format of advertisements.

Presumably the ASRM could throw fertility clinics who violate its price fixing guidelines out and consumers could decide if ASRM membership matters to them. In any case, I have always found that paying people more as an inducement to provide a good or a service to be an odd definition of "exploitation." I personally welcome being "exploited" in that manner. I should note that the Hastings Center press release does conclude on a note of bioethical sanity:

In a related commentary, John A. Robertson, of the University of Texas, argues against greater regulation, and calls the current guidelines into question themselves. "After all, we allow individuals to choose their mates and sperm donors on the basis of such characteristics," he writes. "Why not choose egg donors similarly?"

Why not indeed?

Please read my colleague Kerry Howley's fascinating article, "Ova For Sale," detailing her personal experience as an egg seller.