Should we pay women who donate their eggs?

9 Nov

Egg donation isn’t an aspect of assisted reproduction that is discussed much in the media. Considered an altruistic donation, donors go through a long process to synchronise, stimulate and harvest their eggs using IVF technolgy.

Laws relating to egg donation are comprehensive, despite variance across states and territories. Because it is an altruistic donation, donors are only compensated for costs incurred for transportation, time off from work and all medical expenses.There are also considerable restrictions on the location and wording of advertisements to find willing donors and the ownership of the eggs are clearly defined.

Today over at the Conversation, Meredith Nash (Lecturer in Sociology at University of Tasmania) put forward that women should be financially compensated for egg donation. Nash argues that egg donation is a service that should be paid for and that the price involved would encourage women to donate, thus resulting lower waiting lists.

As someone who has donated my eggs, I don’t want any money.  Here’s why:

It’s not a service

Donating eggs is not a service, it is donating biological matter to known or unknown recipients. If I donate my blood, bone marrow or even eventually my organs, it will not be done as a service.

Service implies skill and aptitude and my ability to ovulate is no greater than my ability to ‘make’ blood. It’s a bodily function and not a skill.

The only skill that relates to egg donation is the expertise of the specialist.

It’s not about supply and demand mechanisms

Nash presents the problem that “demand for egg donors in Australia has increased significantly…and donor eggs are in short supply” and notes Britain’s solution of offering more money for eggs created greater supply and reduced waiting times.

Though Nash argues that paid egg donation is not body commodification, the Daily Mail article she cites for the British example presents the issue less positively, blaming the UK’s economic downturn for increased donation at 750GBP a pop. Though this has reduced waiting times, it also falls straight into the commodification issue Nash confusingly dismisses as unlikely because Australian donors are generally middle class. Her logic doesn’t make sense – women aren’t so poor that they’d need to consider donating their eggs and yet offering money would encourage more women to donate so many eggs it may completely eliminate waiting times (which could classify as over-supply).

Further on the exploitative commodification theme, Nash raises the issue of “reproductive tourism” where women “travel to countries such as India, where egg donors and surrogates are compensated and there are virtually no waiting times for eggs”. Apparently, this is an ok thing and is in no way akin to human servitude or like the breezey consumer-driven cost-cutting medical tourism happening across Asia, South America or Eastern Europe that capitalises on cheap labor for a bargain.

Compensation – why are eggs worth more than the rest of our body?

The confusing logic behind Nash’s piece argues that donors should be respected and compensated for the time, inconvenience and risk they encounter during egg donation.

As mentioned before, this does not take into account the other methods of biological donation that occur with no compensation. Donating blood, plasma, organs, bone marrow and sperm do not receive compensation. Finding a suitable bone marrow or organ donor can be just as time-consuming in the identification and harvesting as well as risky for the donor.

Eggs are not worth more than the equally hard-to-locate bone marrow or fertility-related sperm. The need to provide compensation for egg donation but not these does not make sense.

The reality of donating your eggs

I donated my eggs around 7 years ago after the birth of my daughter. It was important for me to do this because I was told  I was infertile (amply proven by 17 years of unprotected sex with long term partners). That she was a a little miracle surprise intensified my need to “give back”.

My preferred option was to go for known donation (back in 2005, unknown donation was possible in Victoria) and I had the amazing fortune to meet a beautiful couple. We all shared an instant connection in terms of personality and expectations. There are recipients out there who want to take the eggs and run and donors who expect perpetual megalomanical gratitude and the three of us were happy to find those qualities lacking in one another.

The process of donation was, as Nash describes, arduous but there is merit in the meticulous protection offered. There was counselling and testing to ensure we were ok with sharing this step. Syncing and stimulating cycles were grueling assaults on the body and mind and, quite frankly, I feel for any couple who go through IVF technology.  The end of my role was a huge teary relief, in no doubt due to the fact I had so many synthetic hormones running through my body.

Thankfully, the were able to use one of the embryos and successfully give birth to an amazing boy. I feel intensely guilty on our regular meet ups as I can see how alike our respective children are. I can see the dominance of my genes in him and feel a sense of shame, that too much of me transferred over and diluted the altruism of what I wanted to give them.

And then I think about what they gave me as a family. I have wonderful friends with whom I share joy over life’s milestones. My only daughter has a ‘cousin’  she delights in seeing and talking about.

Egg donation took me on a journey that was definitively transforming – my life changed going through this process and took me onto a happier path. The  realisation that if I can share of myself with others to create new life, I could share the same potency with myself. They got an amazing son from egg donation and I got an amazing new life.

That payment is better than anything money could ever give.

One Response to “Should we pay women who donate their eggs?”

  1. sweetiesmum November 11, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    Hi Amy. Wow. What a careful and thoughtful analysis. Yes. Our lovely boy really has captured your looks and aspects of your personality. Some days it makes me catch my breath and think of you and your daughter and how wonderful the connection is. Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece. Margaret.

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