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Paying the Price for Smart (Attractive, Jewish, Athletic . . . )

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by Jennifer A. Redmond, Editor-in-Chief, Apr. 2, 2010

Are eggs from certain egg donors worth more than others? And is it ethical to pay more for certain characteristics an egg donor possesses?

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) says no. But a recent study shows that SAT scores, for one, can increase the price some are willing to pay for donor eggs.

Advertising for Egg Donors

Aaron D. Levine, a bioethicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, looked at advertisements recruiting egg donors on college campuses.

(His findings have been published in the Hastings Center Report.) His review of 105 advertisements for egg donors in 63 college newspapers in March and April 2006 uncovered the following:

    • 50 percent of ads offered $5,000 or less in compensation (the range was $3,000-$5,000)

    • 27 percent of ads offered $5, 000 - $10,000. Several included specific requirements such as Jewish heritage or brown hair.

    • 23 percent of ads offered average compensation greater than $10,000. Each of these ads were placed by a donor agency and most contained appearance or ethnicity requirements.

    • Of that 23 percent offering more than $10,000, three identical ads ran in Harvard, Princeton and Yale papers on behalf of one couple willing to pay $35,000 for a donor who was attractive, athletic, younger than 29, with a GPA over 3.5 and SAT score over 1400. One ad, at Brown, offering $50,000 on behalf of a couple, sought an “extraordinary egg donor” between the ages of 18 - 26.

Levine’s sums up his study as follows:

    “What my analysis establishes is that, on average, higher donor compensation is associated with advertisements placed in states with higher demand for IVF, schools with higher average SAT scores, and recruitment by donor agencies. Notably, the effect of higher average SAT scores is limited to advertisements placed by donor agencies and individual couples. As ASRM guidelines prohibit linking compensation to donor personal characteristics, the strong positive relationship between SAT scores and compensation should be cause for concern. This relationship strongly suggests that donor agencies and couples are placing more value on oocytes donated by women with higher SAT scores, which would violate the ASRM guidelines.”

[Read High SAT score? Your Eggs May be Worth More.]

Nancy Block, CEO of The Donor Network Alliance, is a firm believer that scores don't matter. "I advise intended parents to think about the happiness factor," she says. "My priorities are not educational ability. Education is an opportunity, and not every donor will have that opportunity to prove herself," she adds.

What's really important, Block says, it to find a donor who is dependable, responsible, and who looks like she can fit with the family -- physical characteristics and emotional traits included.

What ASRM Guidelines Say About Paying Egg Donors

The ASRM guidelines state that financial compensation to egg donors is justified on ethical grounds, and that compensation should be structured to acknowledge the time, inconvenience, and discomfort associated with screening, ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval. The ASRM guidelines also state that total payments to donors in excess of $5,000 require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate.

According to the ASRM, “As payments to women providing oocytes increase in amount, the ethical concerns increase as well.” The Society is concerned that the more women get paid, the greater the chance they will discount risks associated with egg donation.

The ASRM also states that, “high payments are disturbing because they could be used to promote the birth of persons with traits deemed socially desirable, which is a form of positive eugenics. Such efforts to enhance offspring are morally troubling because they objectify children rather than assign them intrinsic dignity and worth. Finally, high payments could make donor oocytes available only to the very wealthy.”

Block believes the ASRM guidelines regarding compensation are fair. Donor Network Alliance doesn't pay donors more than ASRM guidelines state and they request the various agencies they work with be ASRM compliant.

"Donors go through a lot and earn every penny," Block says. "Although doctors have perfected every aspect of egg donation over the last 10 years there is still a slight risk." Egg donation is time consuming, physically demanding, and the donors get emotionally vested, according to Block. "Motivating factors aren’t that important as long as she’s compliant, fertile and happy," she adds.