Human egg donations are a lucrative business… but it’s not always as egg-vertised

Many agencies pay up to $50k to women donating their eggs, but are the long-term health risks worth the cash?


April 24, 2019

Well, the ad was enticing, we’ll give them that: “Earn a minimum of $40k to help us complete our family!” it said. “Our ideal match would be under the age of 29, Japanese, and well-educated (Ivy League or similar).”

Infertility has spawned a bustling industry of matchmaking agencies like that one, which help parents pick the perfect egg donor.

But many donors believe the process treats women more like egg factories than people, leaving them feeling isolated and concerned about their safety.

Is the cash worth it?

According to the journal Nursing for Women’s Health, egg donation was first successful in 1983, but it was originally intended to serve a specific population: Women younger than 40 who had premature ovarian failure.

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A few years later, scientists discovered it could also help women have babies in their 40s and 50s. And thus, the egg-conomy was born, bolstering egg donation cycles to a 10x increase by the 1990s.

Egg donation? Or egg-sploitation?

Though the process is labeled a “donation,” money got thrown into the mix around 1993. Now, like many fields, donors are rewarded for past performance (to keep them coming back for more).

But is it ethical to entice a woman into donating her eggs out of financial desperation? Especially when there’s little research on the long-term risks?

The process isn’t a stroll in the park

To increase the chances of success, donors are given drugs to promote the production of additional eggs (normally women produce one egg each cycle). 

The process often requires women to inject themselves with hormone-filled syringes — then have a doctor pierce their vaginal wall with a thick needle to “suck out the extra eggs,” Wired reports.

It was this process that Dr. Jennifer Schneider believes could have been responsible for the death of her daughter — who donated eggs 3 times in her 20s before succumbing to stage 4 colon cancer, according to Insider.

Not many eggs in the research basket

Schneider has since published multiple papers urging scientists to at least conduct more research on the risks of donating eggs (to very little avail). 

As of now, the few studies out there have proved her theories to be anecdotal, but there’s still too little info to fully conclude.

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