Despite Risks, Students Profit Selling Eggs to Fertility Clinics

Contact Ada Tso at [email protected]

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The 20-page application was more complex than the one she sent in five years ago for admittance to UC Berkeley, and it asked about everything from hair texture to birth control to life philosophy.

The form was the beginning of a long process that would help pay off the undergraduate debt that UC Berkeley alumna Kristen, who declined to give her last name, had accrued by her 2002 graduation. She submitted her profile to Fertility Alternatives, a Murietta, Calif.-based egg donor agency, in hopes that a couple seeking children might choose her eggs for fertilization in return for substantial compensation.

"A lot of people do this for highly altruistic reasons, but that wasn't the case with me," says Kristen, 21.

Two years after the agency accepted her profile, Kristen was matched with a Bay Area couple. With the agency's help, Kristen negotiated a $65,000 payment, signed a contract with a couple she never previously met and, after an intensive medical screening process, began daily self-injections of hormones to produce multiple eggs.

Kristen, who intends to donate the maximum six times, fits the prototype of college-educated young women who egg donor agencies target by advertising heavily in college newspapers, including The Daily Californian.

"The reason for targeting college students is that they are poor, but their poorness does not correlate with their class status," says Charis Thompson, an assistant professor of women's studies who has worked with a number of egg donor agencies.

Dawn Hunt, president of Fertility Alternatives, says most people seeking donors are usually professionally successful couples who want to be matched to someone with a similar educational background.

Ethnicity is also extremely important to many potential parents-Jewish, Asian and East Indian donors are in high demand and often receive greater compensation for their eggs, according to Hunt.

The egg donation process can be wrought with ethical and emotional concerns, which Fertility Alternatives and other agencies try to address through professional psychologist evaluations and meetings with donors.

Because potential parents tend to choose donors who are attractive and intelligent, some wonder if it is ethical to propagate certain traits more than others.

"The issue arises of whether donors are unwittingly participating in something where some kinds of children are preferred over others," Thompson says.

Other emotional consequences are difficult to anticipate, she says. For instance, a donor might find herself infertile later in life, leading to

speculation about children that might have been produced by her donated eggs.

After donors undergo extraction, they learn if the pregnancy was successful, but, in most cases, little more.

"Certainly I think about what happened to my egg and what the kid will be like, but I don't think it does or will bother me," Kristen says.

Besides emotional and ethical issues, egg donations also come with some health risks. However, the dangers are often unpredictable because donor procedures are only several decades old, though some possibilities range from ovarian cancer to infertility, according to Thompson.

Ultimately, for Kristen, none of these emotional, ethical or health prospects fazed her.

"It's just DNA and it's a very, very safe procedure," she says. "I think what it makes it your child is giving birth and raising it, so I wouldn't consider the result from my donated egg to be my child."


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