BIOETHICS: Increasing Egg Donations by Female College Students Spark Concerns
A new trend among female college students of donating eggs to infertile couples has many bioethicists worried. College newspapers throughout Orange County and California feature daily ads for donors, who, depending on their attributes, can receive up to $50,000 for eggs. Loyola Law School bioethicist Vicki Michel said, "I don't like reproduction turning into a business. What I worry about is a 21-year-old will be pushed into doing something, looking for money for medical school. She's not going to know enough about the science of what's going on with her." While one ad in the UC-Irvine student newspaper offers $50,000, most donors receive between $2,500 and $5,000 -- which, according to egg brokers, serves as "compensation for time and trouble." But Yeshiva University medical ethicist Moshe Tendler called that claim "baloney," arguing that "there is a bidding war going on. It's a business. The tissue is being bought, the same as you would a lamb chop on the market." University of Pennsylvania's Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethicists, agreed, noting, "It's the wild west of reproductive technology. We've banned the sale of babies. What we're putting up with at this point is the buying of all the ingredients." Egg brokerage firms and parents often specify certain characteristics donors must have, from intelligence level to athleticism to looks, prompting concern that "the practice of picking attributes smacks of eugenics" and that potential donors may not be candid about their family and medical histories. In addition, many brokerages are not up-front about the painful process involved, according to Dr. David Diaz, director of West Coast Fertility Center, who noted that "agencies, in their eagerness to sign people up and go into an (egg) cycle, sometimes gloss over some of the details." But attorney Thomas Pinkerton, whose firm is offering $50,000 for a donor, contends that the practice is no "more wrong than selling blood." He said, "If a parent wants to offer $5,000 or $1 million, it doesn't matter to us. ... (An egg's) just wasted every month if it's not used." But not everyone focuses on the cash: Chapman University senior Carrie Cox, who received $3,000 for her donated eggs, said egg donation is "all about love, what kind of home these people will give this child." Alex Capron, co-director of the Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics at USC, believes, however, that the practice turns human beings into commodities, concluding, "The dilemma arises between the use of a market with supposed freedom and this process of turning people into something akin to automobiles -- get the flashiest one you can afford" (Saavedra, Orange County Register, 12/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.