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Biology 103
2001 Second Web Report
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Egg Donations

Rebecca Roth

Everyone has probably seen the egg donor ads. Some of them read as follows: "Egg donors wanted. Help a couple's dream come true. It will be emotionally and financially rewarding." However, are egg donations really safe, ethical, and who really thinks about doing it? There are emotional, economic, ethical, and legal issues involved in egg donor participation.

Many women suffer from infertility, (about 6.1 million in just the U.S.) and with the advances in technology, there are several different ways to impregnate an infertile woman. Some women do not produce eggs, or have had their ovaries removed. Others have had radiation therapy for cancer that destroyed their ovarian function. Some women have a genetically transmitted defective trait that can be passed on by the female, or have reached menopause and desire another child (1). Today, in vitro fertilization, embryo donation, and sperm and egg donations have become viable options for infertile couples (6).

Donated eggs from young, healthy women provide some of the best odds of achieving a successful pregnancy for women who are infertile because of age or other factors, with almost 50 percent of efforts leading to live births. Donors must undergo a series of hormonal treatments that routinely lead to a month or more of bloating and discomfort and culminate in the moderately painful suctioning of as many as two dozen eggs from their ovaries via a needle inserted through the vagina (2). Oocyte donation is invasive, physically demanding and often painful. Donors are required to receive daily injections of drugs that induce ovarian hyperstimulation-the ovaries are caused to produce several eggs at a time. For three weeks, donors must go to the infertility center every morning so that the physician can monitor egg development and take blood samples to ascertain hormone levels indicating egg growth. Approximately 34 hours before egg extraction, donors receive an injection of human chorionic gonadotropin to trigger ovulation and then they begin to take antibiotics to ward off infection (4).

Some people think that egg marketing constitutes an unethical trade in body parts, others think that is dangerously coercive--encouraging donors to conceal genetic problems or inducing poor women to accept the risks of donation just to escape debt. Many U.S. donors are college students (2). For college students desperate for money for tuition and loans, activities such as donating eggs may look promising. However, the ads that young women read in college newspapers seldom inform them that oocyte donors spend 56 hours in the clinical setting for interviews, counseling, and procedures related to the process (4). Egg donors are from all walks of life, including students, nannies, and professionals (3).

Women who donate their healthy eggs to infertile women are ethically entitled to be paid for their services, but should only rarely be paid more than $5,000 and never as much as $10,000, according to a new report by an influential medical ethics committee. It is wrong to offer financial premiums for eggs from women with particular physical or intellectual traits (2). There is a debate going on over egg donor incentives at a time when the market for human eggs is booming. Advertisements by brokers today sometimes offer tens of thousands of dollars for eggs from suitable donors. In some cases woman have to show their scores on scholastic aptitude tests. They even request certain characteristics and physical traits, such as blue eyes and at least five foot eight inches tall. In recent years, incentives have escalated dramatically from the few hundred dollars once offered to donors. While payments for sperm donations have remained flat at about $25, many clinics now offer $2,500 to $5,000 for a clutch of donated eggs (2). The American Society for Assisted Reproduction's voluntary guidelines mandates that egg donors be "Compensated for the direct and indirect expenses associated with their participation, their inconvenience and time, and to some degree, for the risk and discomfort undertaken." But, the guidelines also add that "financial payments" should not be so excessive (5). However, one needs to ask the question how would one feel knowing that they helped create a baby and that part of that baby has the donor's own genetic traits and characteristics.

However, does the question of egg donations bring up a trend in society towards viewing babies as commodities, subject to buying, selling and engineering? It is a view of a marketplace mentality. If one couple cannot have the perfect child, do they want as close to perfect a child as possible? Are eggs really a gift? Are eggs a free market commodity? What kind of person sells their eggs to a couple that just wants a pretty baby? How would that child feel, knowing that his/her parents paid a high price for their looks? Who would put such a high price on beauty? Are brains and beauty sold for a certain price? These are ethical issues that must be thought about.

Should we be able to order babies the way we order clothes from online sites? Should we soon be able to click on a web site and purchase a donor egg from a supermodel, request a donor with Einstein capacity, procreate a star performer for some future Olympics? What if we are unhappy with the results, should the designer baby come with a money-back guarantee? What if the infant isn't what the family expected, could they "ship" him back? Twenty-three years ago, there was the birth of Louise Brown, the world's first test-tube baby. Today, in vitro fertilization, embryo donation, and sperm and egg donations have become viable options for infertile couples. To couples faced with infertility and yearning for a child of their own, reproductive technologies are a blessing. But have we gone too far? For instance, with the rise of donor insemination, couples now have the option of choosing certain genetic traits such as eye and hair color, or height. And just as science has evolved to allow us to genetically engineer our food, one day we may apply similar techniques to genetically engineer humans (6). If a child is conceived as the result of an egg or sperm donation, who are really the parents? Does it come down only to who paid for the procedure or who is married to the father? It's not at all clear, legally or socially (7).

The human body is beyond price, yet biotechnology companies expect to compete in the marketplace and pay for the raw materials they need. The human body as source material has become very useful and lucrative (8). Ordering up special characteristics and paying large sums to a select donor creates unrealistic expectations for the couple. You never know what kind of child is going to develop from any egg or sperm. You can't guarantee that anyone will have any specific characteristic. The laws of genetics attest to that. To what degree could parental hopes backfire on the child? What if the parents felt they "bought" specific characteristics that didn't play out? (9).

Sometimes our knowledge of scientific techniques outpaces our understanding of the ethical and legal issues that follow. Before we put these techniques into use we must have answers to the moral dilemmas that ensue. Both the couple and the egg donor need to look at the issues carefully before agreeing to the procedure.

WWW Sources

1)Pencil Stubs Online , Views on egg donations

2)Washington Post Article,

3)Oocyte (Egg) Donation , WebMD Health

4)American Journal Of Nursing-Young Women Wanted ,

5) Supply and Demand for Human Eggs,

6)Reader's Digest debate on egg donations ,

7)Making Sense of Making Babies, Dr. Laura Shanner p> 8)For all we are worth, Ethics of buying and selling our parts

9)Stanford Magazine, What are the costs of egg donating?

Another Interesting Link

10)Gattaca Movie , Design your own baby

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