Money Meets Maternity: Cash for your Eggs

Your ovaries are tiny goldmines. Over 5,000 American babies each year are born from eggs "donated" to In Vitro Fertilization clinics or couples -- but in reality, those eggs are rarely donated. Instead, as you've probably gleaned from the backpage ads of alt-weeklies, some families are willing to pay big money for egg donors. The average payment for a US egg donor, according to Harvard researcher Deborah Spar, is $5,000.

But strangely, until now, it has been illegal to pay women who give eggs for research rather than reproduction. This month New York state okayed cutting checks to women who undergo (often difficult) weeks of hormone treatment to donate eggs for stem cell research.

The state expects a backlash and it's getting some from bioethics and religious groups. But the legal change raises the question of whether it's okay to pay women for their eggs at all - and if so, why have different rules for research eggs and babymaking eggs?

Deborah Spar, PhD, the Harvard researcher investigating the ethical issues of commercializing maternity, has a good, concise article spelling out the bioethics debate about paying women for eggs. She points out that the problem is not so much paying women for eggs, but that there are few regulations that protect female donors' health. "There are no federal guidelines covering egg donation; donors thus learn only what their brokers, clinics, or research laboratories choose to tell them," Spar wrote in 2007. "We have not thought deeply about what makes sense for science, for women, and for society. Instead, we are only fighting about the price."

Just take a quick gander at the unsettling ads that come up when you search for egg donation -- with no consistent regulations, it's definitely possible women are being lured in for the money and not told all the health impacts of hormone therapy.


Politicians and women's health advocates raised a safety alarm several years ago when national newspapers picked up stories of thousands of college women (with "top test scores and picture-perfect looks"...) selling eggs to pay tuition. Some resulting state laws are good, requiring doctors and "egg brokers" to tell women about the host of health problems that could result from the egg creation and extraction process.

But some states, like Arizona, wound up banning payments for egg donors. While protecting female donors, that also ends up limiting scientific research and the options for couples who want to become pregnant. So in my opinion, Spar is right. Is NY is going to start paying women modest sums (likely not over $5,000, according the state decision) for their eggs, they had better follow up with legislation that makes sure donors know that they're dipping their fertile toes into a potentially dangerous medical practice.

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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5 Comments Have Been Posted

With someone who has

With someone who has $60,000+ in student loans, a six year-old, and no job (thank you recession!), egg donation was something I did consider. However, I never took it beyond the "thinking about it" stage. For me, it's ethically tricky and what about the health risks? I think it's unfortunate that women who may be in a similar situation think this is a viable option. Instead we should be looking at the increasing costs of higher education, lack of affordable child care, and livable wages.

As someone who worked in a

As someone who worked in a spermbank, I saw hundreds of men come in to "donate" sperm for money. They are paid handsomely for the discomfort of having to abstain from sex or masturbation in order to keep their sperm count elevated for donation purposes. I believe the ONLY issue with female egg donation is regulating the donation process as described by the post. It is more lucrative than sperm donation, but rightly so because is much riskier and more painful. The arguments for protecting minority or impoverished women by banning paid egg donation are flawed. These so-called at-risk women can join any risky, time consuming, uncomfortable, medical study for similar money. The only difference would be the strict human test subject regulations. If we lay down procedural rules, and provide information on risks, women can choose for themselves. Additionally, researchers should employ the same ethics when choosing a female egg donor as when choosing subjects for any study. If the donation process will put someone at above normal risk for unwanted complications, they should be disqualified.

egg donor

Although the ethics on egg "donation" are kind of tricky, this process is a lucrative opportunity to make money for women who don't have a job, skills to have job, time to work enough, etc.

I myself went through the process of egg donation. I always felt like the clinic I donated with was upfront and honest with me. It IS painful and it IS risky, but as a college student who has never made more than $4000 in a year, it was worth the month of vaginal ultrasounds and the week of discomfort/pain. I made $3K and it has really helped me support myself since.

I support women who choose to donate their eggs. I just think that researching the process, drugs used, and risks is key before deciding one way or another.

A 61-year-old woman gave birth to her own grandchild using an eg

A 61-year-old woman gave birth to her own grandchild using an egg donated by her daughter, a clinic in Japan has said.
The surrogate mother is believed to be oldest woman to have given birth in Japan.

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