You'll Pay Me How Much?

Meghan Lane does research on sexual health topics for fun. Ask her questions at [email protected]





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Q: My concern is that there is not a place for women to get accurate information about egg donation and what it involves. I know the money is tempting, but it is a long and involved procedure and no one knows what the long-term social and psychological implications are for these young women.

I am concerned that college students are being seduced by the money and are not understanding the implications for their health.

A: Egg donation can seem like a lucrative opportunity for those women who need money and possess the attributes sought by women/couples who are infertile and want to conceive with a donor's egg. Likewise, sperm donation (which I'll talk about in a moment), while less monetarily rewarding, can also be a source of income for men.

I know that a lot of you have seen those ads at the back of The Daily Californian (if you haven't, turn and look; I'll be here when you get back) that offer anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000 for eggs from a donor who meets very specific qualifications, and about $45 per sperm donation. Part of the reason for the difference in payment offered stems from the relative ease of sperm collection versus the difficulty of harvesting eggs.

One of the benefits of sex cell donation, other than money, is the knowledge that you may be helping people who could otherwise not have children do so. Many donors accept money as a fee for inconvenience, and enjoy donating because they feel that they are helping others in need.

It is important, however, to look at both the benefits and disadvantages of sex cell donation, as our friendly advice nurse above has pointed out. I'll go into the procedures involved in egg and sperm donation, so that those of you who are contemplating donating your gametes will be able to make more informed choices.

The process of egg donation involves inducing maturation of the follicles in a woman's ovaries into ova (eggs), and the subsequent removal of these ova so that they can be fertilized by sperm and implanted into another woman's uterus.

First, the woman is screened for genetic diseases and viruses. Then hormones are administered which stimulate the maturation of about 10 ova at a time. The hormone treatment lasts for about four weeks, during which time the donor is monitored via transvaginal ultrasound scanning and sometimes blood samples to check the progress of the ova.

The actual collection is a 20- to 30-minute surgical procedure performed under local anesthetic. The eggs are removed through the vagina. According to www.fertility-net.com, one of the most important factors in the success of the procedure is the age of the donor. Younger women's eggs have a higher rate of fertilization and implantation, and this is one of the key reasons that egg donor advertisements can be found in college newspapers.

Sperm donation is slightly less complicated. The basics of the procedure are that a donor masturbates and ejaculates into a cup. The semen is then washed so that the healthier sperm are isolated, and this sample is frozen for later use. There is, however, a four- to six-week screening process for potential paid donors, so it isn't as easy as it may seem. The Web site www.thespermbankofca.org details this screening process, which includes a total of seven visits to become a legal sperm donor. The donor will have to undergo a physical examination, as well as have his blood, urine, and semen screened for bacteria and viruses. Once the donor has completed the screening process, he can donate as many times as he wants. At up to $45 per sample, the Sperm Bank of California says that most men donate once a week. This particular sperm bank requires a minimum one-year commitment.

As I alluded to earlier, there are a number of issues to consider when deciding whether to donate your gametes. What will happen if the use of your donation is successful? You will be the genetic parent of another person. While it is easy to dismiss your donation as a gift or sale of biological material to another person, your feelings may change in the future. In addition, your genetic offspring may wish to contact you later, and you should also think about how this person would fit into your established life. How would you explain to your children the existence of their genetic half-sibling, or would you explain at all? What would you do if your genetic child needed a life-saving transplant from you, or you from him/her?

Another consideration: Women who take fertility drugs so that they can donate eggs will become much more fertile than they otherwise might have been. If you don't have a damn good method of contraception, or cannot abstain from vaginal intercourse with a man, you may very well end up getting yourself pregnant instead of someone else.

Also, keep in mind that even if you do decide to donate, your eggs or sperm may not be accepted. If you have one of several viral sexually transmitted diseases, you will likely be turned down. Women, if you don't meet the specifications of the receiving family, your donation may not be accepted. Women who are the recipients of egg donation often look for donors who match them in appearance, intelligence, and family history.

The bottom line with gamete donation, then, is to know what you're getting into. Make sure that you talk to doctors and counselors who have experience in fertility treatments and who can answer all of your questions before you commit yourself to being a genetic parent.

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