02 March 2009

US women sell their eggs for cash

Drawn by payments of up to R100 000, an increasing number of women are offering to sell their eggs at US fertility clinics as a way to make money amid the financial crisis.

Drawn by payments of up to R100 000, an increasing number of women are offering to sell their eggs at US fertility clinics as a way to make money amid the financial crisis.

Nicole Hodges, a 23-year-old actress in New York City who has been out of work since November, says she has decided to sell her eggs because she desperately needs cash. “I’m still paying off college. I have credit card bills and, you know, rent in New York is so expensive,” said Hodges, who has been accepted as donor and is waiting to be chosen by a couple.

Hodges said there was also some satisfaction in helping an infertile couple have a child. “Yes, the money is very nice, but it’s nice to be able to let a mother who wants to be a mother be a mother,” she said.

Fertility organisations across the US said there had been a growing interest. The Centre for Egg Options in Illinois has seen a 40% increase in egg donor inquiries since the start of 2008.

Interest doubled
New York City’s Northeast Assisted Fertility Group said interest had doubled and the Colorado Centre for Reproductive Medicine said it had received 10% more inquiries. The Reproductive Science Centre of New England, which does not deal directly with egg donors, said it had gone from no inquiries to now receiving several a month.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends that total payments to donors be capped at R100 000. This is contrary to the laws in South Africa where women cannot 'sell' their eggs for a profit.

A 2007 study by the society found the US national average payment was around R42 160. Payments by clinics in the Northeast were found to average just over R50 000, while those in the Northwest averaged just under R30 000.

Katherine Bernardo, egg donor programme manager at Northeast Assisted Fertility Group, said while some women saw donation as an easy way to make money, not everyone was accepted.

“There is an economic climate that encourages women to find creative ways to make money,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that anyone interested in egg donation actually goes on to donate because so few women are actually eligible.”

'Don't just donate for the money'
Bernardo said only 5% to 7% of the applications she received resulted in the retrieval of eggs. An ideal candidate, she said, was in her twenties, healthy, attractive and well-educated.

Egg donors undergo medical, psychological and genetic testing as well as a background check. If selected, a donor must undergo hormone injections until her eggs are ready to be retrieved. “And remember the economy puts strain on the recipients too,” Bernardo said. “It’s a very expensive undertaking to use a donor egg and an IVF (in vitro fertilisation) cycle.”

Eric Surrey, medical director of the Colorado Centre for Reproductive Medicine, said women should not donate their eggs simply for the money. “We understand that financial compensation is certainly one motivation, but should never be the sole motivation. These women are providing a great gift to others that should not be taken lightly,” said Surrey, a past president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.

Not as much money is on offer for men looking to donate sperm. Several sperm banks in New York City, where men are paid about R600 each time they donate, said there had not been a rise in donors. – (Reuters Health, March 2009)

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