Recently it was in the news that egg donors were complaining the fertility community was colluding to keep egg donors’ fees low.
While in my experience this is not true, there are aspects to the price of egg donation that are worth considering when quantifying the true “cost.”
How Much Does Egg Donation Cost?
First off, it is illegal and, in the eyes of some people, immoral and unethical to pay for body parts. The going rate is around $2,500.00 – $10,000.00 per egg retrieval procedure, which in my opinion as a fertility specialist is a fair price for time, effort, and all other factors (i.e., travel). Beyond that, it becomes a slippery slope when donors demand more and more money for their eggs.
In assessing the implications of the cost of egg donation, there are several nuanced aspects to consider:
Selective Breeding and Eugenetics: If donors start demanding higher prices for their eggs, then what really are we paying for?
- Are the ovum of a beautiful model or a college-educated person more desirable and therefore worth more money than those of an average woman with a secondary school education? Similar to the ethics of “genius sperm banks,” it begs the question: Are we paying more for specific DNA? If so, this brings up discussion about Eugenics and selective breeding, which has significant costs to any society – social, economic, and otherwise. And then there is the price the child plays – if his or her genetics are “perfect,” then how does that shift expectations (of intellect, athletic ability, looks, etc.)?
- From a practical standpoint, if we really start paying for eggs and DNA, and it becomes a form of Eugenics, then it is easy to see how the entire process may be banned here in the U.S. as it is in other countries. That would be a blow to young women who are kind enough to donate their eggs and for whom modest reimbursement does help them achieve some of their goals. Further, that would limit the availability of eggs for women whose ovaries have failed them and for who access to donated eggs is literally their only chance at becoming pregnant. This indeed would be a step backwards for women’s reproductive freedoms.
Exchanging body parts for money: Eggs and sperm are replenishable body parts, and this has allowed payment for eggs and sperm to become part of the “donor” lexicon. In today’s world, things are still relatively stable in the egg donation arena, although the discussion about fees points to a trend where finding desirable egg donors is becoming more difficult. It makes it easy to imagine a time when the fee to obtain eggs is so high that it alters economics…
- There could come a day when only the very wealthy could afford egg donation. Even today, it is out of reach for many people
- Younger women could become enticed by such exorbitant payouts that they disregard any risks and make a career of donating eggs during the prime fertility years (20-30 years-old). We really don’t know if this entails long-term health risks, because we currently limit women to six cycles.
- Paying for body parts could become the norm. Imagine paying people to donate kidneys or bone marrow. Take that one step further and you have the plot of a dystopian novel: Kazuo Ishiguro’s classic, Never Let Me Go. In this scenario, communities of people are born as a class of society with their sole purpose in life being to donate all of their organs. They are raised as donors, knowing that eventually they will be matched and have to give away their essential organs, ensuring their ultimate demise. The vision of a two-class society with certain upper classes of privilege being able to capitalize upon and use other peoples as donors is chilling. Dystopian, yes… but implausible, too? I would like to think so, but humans never cease to amaze me.
The realities of a Capitalistic society: Because we are Capitalists, laws of supply and demand apply, and it follows that egg donors should be able to set their price – the supply side. There are many women desperate to have children that would be willing to pay exorbitant fees to fulfill their driving desire to have a family – the demand side. So then, are the agencies driving up the fees and encouraging young women to charge more, knowing that the demand is there? Is a proven donor really worth more than another young egg donor who hasn’t tried to donate yet?
I understand that egg donors want fair compensation, but it’s important to keep in mind the extent of the donor commitment:
- Three intake visits
- One visit with a geneticist
- One psych test
- Five to ten office visits for ultrasounds and blood draws
- Finally, a 15-minute surgical procedure.
If the job description was posted this way: five to ten hours of work completed in the next two months, at a median fee of $5,000.00 per egg retrieval procedure, that’s $500.00-$1,000.00 per hour. So is a $5,000.00 reimbursement really an underpayment? All things considered equal, it’s my opinion that what egg donors are paid now is ultimately very fair, and to see those prices elevated based on preferred DNA or other factors seems to me to be a much greater cost than our society can bear.
Together We’ll Find A Way
To learn more about egg donation, please contact the West Coast Women’s Reproductive Center.