Your daughter is in a bit of a financial bind. Maybe she
needs money for tuition, or cash to furnish her first apartment. Then she calls
you with a plan: she’s going to donate her eggs! Or maybe donate isn’t quite
the operative word here, as they’re offering to pay her serious money in return
for a piece of your family’s genetic material.
There are lots of questions a mom might ask at a moment like
this. Below, we’ve tried to anticipate them and offer some answers.
Will she regret this?
Donors often report their mothers asking them, “Aren’t you
going to be upset that you have a child out there somewhere? My grandchild?”
according to Patricia Sachs, a clinical social worker with Shady Grove Fertility Center,
based in Rockville, Md. “The donors typically say, ‘I’m not giving away my
child. I’m giving away my DNA, my eggs.’”
course, that’s what they say today. But a study published in the
scientific journal Fertility and
Sterility in 2008 shows those young donors may continue to feel that way in the long term.
researchers found that two-thirds of the women surveyed reported satisfaction
with the process, while 13.8 percent reported long-term negative effects and
12.5 percent described both positive and negative feelings about their past egg
study by scientists at the University of Washington included 80 women who
donated eggs at clinics in 20 states.
One woman cited in the study, Donor 28, told the researchers, ‘‘It was a great thing to do for someone else
that I could feel good about, and the money made the discomfort worth going
Donor 18, however, was among
the women who reported both positive and negative reactions:
"I am happy I donated my eggs.... I’d love to know the
recipients involved and see their children, but understand that I signed those
rights away a long time ago.... I do wish that all communication with the
recipients and the program hadn’t ended the second I was handed a check."
That depends on who you ask. Those in the fertility industry say donors are not taking a
considerable physical risk.
“History indicates that egg donation is not a problem,” says
Dr. James Goldfarb, medical director of the University
Hospitals Fertility Center in Beachwood, Ohio, and a past president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Mild, short-term side effects are possible, Goldfarb and
other industry officials say. These include mood swings, headaches, abdominal
bloating, weight gain and nausea, as a side effect of the drugs taken to induce
As for more severe health issues arising directly from
donation, Goldfarb said, “there is a very, very low risk of complications.”
The most common complication is ovarian hyperstimulation
syndrome, a condition marked by chest and
abdominal fluid buildup and cystic enlargement of the ovaries that can cause
permanent damage and even death. Fertility clinics say less than 5 percent of
donors are at risk of developing OHSS.
But what about the long-term risks?
Goldfarb cited studies (such as this one from
2004) that showed little to no risk
of long-term physical effects from egg donation.
Opponents believe there is at least ample anecdotal evidence
of future fertility problems and increased cancer risks associated with egg
donation, and they
are calling for further research.
“Absence of harm does not equate to evidence of safety,”
says Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies, Ourselves, a Boston-based nonprofit,
public interest women’s health education, advocacy and consulting organization.
Though Goldfarb cites studies, Norsigian said the ones that
exist are inadequate—too narrow, or too short-term in scope, or derived from
too small a sampling. “Understand,” she said, “we don’t have adequate
Norsigian has college-aged daughters, and said if one of
them came to her for advice on this subject, she would tell her, “Don’t do it,
even if the risk is not huge. If you are one of the minority of women who have
problems, the risk is 100 percent for you … and the money would not be worth
To which Goldfarb responds: “I tell [egg donors] it’s less than a 1 in 1,000 chance of a
significant risk. If you want to make sure there’s no risk, you should not go
through with it.”
can she expect to earn from the experience? And how will that color her
Clinics generally offer egg
donors $10,000 or less per donation, with repeat donors commanding higher
prices. But some infertile couples, looking for a more precise match or an
especially remarkable donor, hire egg brokers who offer much more—ads on Ivy
League campuses have dangled figures like $50,000 or more for the right donor.
As for how that affects a donor’s decision, the University of Washington study
found that women who donated more out of altruism than financial gain tended to
feel better, long-term, about their decision (84 percent) than women who were
mainly driven by compensation (61 percent).
“We were asking these women
years later,” said Nancy Kenney, a UW associate professor and the study’s lead
author, in a press release, “and a feeling of helping may last longer than