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It's Not Really Egg 'Donation,' Is It?
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I was reading the Huffington Post the other day and read an article written about Rene Almeling PhD, who is an assistant professor of sociology at Yale University. She wrote a book, which I am reading with great interest, titled “Sex Cells.”
In "Sex Cells," which examines the medical marketing of eggs and sperm, she takes an inside look at the way egg donation agencies and sperm banks are conducting business. It’s an incredibly thought-provoking read that talks about gender framing and how gender framing influences the structure of the third party market, and how it affects those who donate sperm and eggs.
Can You Compare Egg Donation to Sperm Donation?
After reading the article about this book I naively decided to wade through the shark infested waters of the Huffington post commenters — man they are a tough crowd. While I was reading through each and every comment with my mind attempting to think about the article, I found myself asking: “Can we really compare egg donors and sperm donors with regard to what they do and why they do it?” And at the end of the day who dreamed up the phrase “egg donation?" It’s not really egg donation, is it?
Granted, I am not a Ph.D., nor am I a sociologist, psychologist, bioethicist, or anthropologist. My experience regarding this industry is being neck deep within the industry for the past 15 years, 11 of which I have been a mother via egg donation, and finally the leader of a non-profit organization that educates and supports parents via egg donation. So I think I kind of do know what I am talking about when referring to issues and challenges we all face within a non-regulated, highly emotional, and often frustrating industry.
It's a Service, Not Charity
When we look at the job (yes it’s a job) that egg donors and sperm donors perform to help folks like me have children, it’s very different in regards to how that job is performed, but the end result is the same — if that makes sense. For men the experience (from what I understand, I am not a man) is short, easy and quite pleasurable. I honestly don’t know the going rate, but I want to say it’s about $100 per semen sample. And let me say when I say “short,” I am meaning men don’t have to take hormones for an extended period of time, undergo a surgical procedure and then wait for a menstrual period to arrive. Men complete their paperwork, undergo a physical and make a commitment for follow-up appointments as I want to say sperm donors give more than one sample to the sperm bank they are working with.
Egg donors on the other hand take several different kinds of fertility drugs — some of which are in the form of an injection — daily. They are required to see a physician several times during the cycle to monitor their progress, and then finally they undergo a surgical procedure that retrieves their eggs that are then given to the recipient couple so the eggs can be fertilized and embryos can be created. The recovery period is about 14 days total from the day of retrieval until the egg donor has a menstrual period. Their compensation is typically between $5,000 and $10,000.
In Rene’s book she talks about how sperm donors are recruited to make money or earn “fast cash” and how egg donors are recruited to give the gift of life, make another couple's dreams come true, and not focus on the money aspect (which, if you ask me would be difficult to do because money really does change hands) so much as being altruistic.
A Business Transaction
Why is it that there is an “ick factor” when we as a society talk about buying eggs or sperm to create our families. Is it because when we think about egg donors or sperm donors we automatically think about things like liver, heart, lung, corneaand kidney transplants? And we all know how that occurs. And with the exception to donating a kidney, someone has to give their life to save a life, and there is never any money exchanged. For instance I don’t think for two seconds that human bodies (our egg donors) become degraded objects of commerce or commodities for that matter.
I admit, for years I was part of the “ick crowd” that could not bring myself to utter the words “buy/sell eggs or sperm." It had such a bad connotation. Honestly, I am not sure when I came to the party and became comfortable and okay seeing egg and sperm donation for what is truly is: A business transaction.
Now I get that it’s more than that. There’s a lot of emotion that goes into egg donor and sperm donor selection. We select our donors based on a connection we make with them — criteria we have established for ourselves. I realize that even talking about buying and selling eggs sounds cold and sterile, but when we reduce all of “this” down to the lowest denominator, you see that 99 percent of the time egg donors and sperm donors receive money for eggs and sperm.
There shouldn’t really be a problem with that. It is what it is — it helps us have the family we so desperately want. I think we should be proud.
At least I am.