45 Years, 45 Days: Ova for Sale


For 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.

Writing in Reason's October 2006 issue, Kerry Howley told the story of how she "underwent general anesthesia, endured a minor medical procedure, and sold 12 ova to a pair of strangers for $10,000. Like thousands of other women that year, I joined in an assembly-line production of a human embryo." In her article "Ova for Sale," Howley explained the art of the deal in the gray market for human eggs:

Selling ova to another woman is at once impossibly intimate and wholly impersonal, a connected but highly distributed process of exchange. It is a transaction well suited to the Internet, which tends to provoke uninhibited sharing among strangers cloaked in anonymity. The Web sites I found, trolling through hundreds of Google hits for "egg donor," were similar, placing heavy emphasis on the motivation of donors. They spoke of fulfillment, of "making a difference," of "one of the most loving gifts one woman can give to another." The pictures were of babies, clouds, building blocks. The site I chose was among the most thickly written, its invitation to donate dripping with hyper-feminized expressions of motherhood and generosity. It was the linguistic equivalent of a doily.

The application invited me to "investigate the possibility of impacting a loving couple's life with the gift of egg donation." It promised that sharing genetic material is "one of the most powerful and rewarding decisions a woman can make." It demanded "a candid humanitarian desire to assist an infertile couple/individual in conceiving." It asked for all the basic facts: height, eye color, hair color, allergies, and ailments.

The application also asked, "What is the least amount of compensation you will consider accepting for an egg donation?" Elsewhere, the agency stated that it would not accept requests of more than $10,000. So I typed in: $10,000.