by Michael Poore
women at elite colleges and universities see the ads all the time:
WANTED: egg donor, tall, attractive, athletic, good health, under
age 26, SAT scores above 1,300, compensation $5,000. A very
attractive offer for a busy, cash-strapped college student. At more
prestigious schools—Harvard, Yale, or Brown—the offering price can
range from $15,000 to $60,000 per donor cycle. A few years ago an ad
ran in the Stanford Daily offering $100,000.
Students are not the only respondents to such ads. A recent article
in USA Today describes a Virginia attorney who received
$7,500 for her first donation of fifteen eggs, and she expects to
receive another $7,500 for a second cycle. This money will be used
to help pay off her $175,000 college debt. Women with families also
sell their eggs. Whether a working mother or stay-at-home mom, these
women have a track record—they have already produced children with
so, the attorney and the Ivy League grad student may have an
advantage over the stay-at-home mom in the human egg market—a market
in which the highest prices go to those who possess the
characteristics most in demand: intelligence as demonstrated by
academic achievement, beauty, athletic ability, and a family history
of good health.
demand for eggs is not likely to decline soon. Those in search of
eggs are highly motivated, often desperate. Many are career women
who delayed having children and are now in their late thirties,
forties, and even fifties. At this age, the risk of genetic defects
for children born with their own eggs has risen dramatically, and
purchasing younger, healthier eggs is a solution.
buying and selling of human eggs—although thinly disguised as
compensation for time and trouble—is controversial. Should women
sell their eggs? Should they be allowed to sell their eggs? Yes,
according to the libertarian thinking that dominates the fertility
industry: Consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want
with their bodies as long as no one else is harmed. However, the
mental, medical, moral, and social dimensions of egg donation are
not that cut-and-dried.
RATIONALIZING AWAY HER EGGS
Derek, a Swedish journalism student studying in the United States,
discovered many of the hazards of egg donation the hard way.
Desperate for cash and looking for a job, she came across an ad in
the Washington Post offering $3,500 for an egg donor.
first, she was repulsed by the idea: “If I donated my eggs to a
woman—or sold actually—I would become the mother to that woman’s
child, wouldn’t I?” But her desperation soon led to a host of
rationalizations. It would not be the same as giving away a child.
It would be like giving away a cell, the same as giving someone a
hair. It could not be her child since it would not be in her womb
nine months. The real mother is the woman who raises the child, not
the one who only contributes her genetic material.
end, she started selling her body, a few eggs at a time. After all,
why wait tables if you can get thousands of dollars by becoming an
the beginning, Julia knew that “donation” was not donation. No one
would provide eggs without compensation for the considerable time
and trouble—physical exams, daily hormone injections, frequent blood
tests to monitor hormone levels, and ultrasounds to track
development of the eggs. Then, there’s the small chance that
fertility drugs, used to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple
eggs, could lead to serious complications, sterility, or even death.
This time-consuming process takes about four weeks and is completed
by minor surgery, during which the
ripened eggs are suctioned from the follicles of the woman’s
these burdens and risks were not enough to discourage Julia from
donating repeatedly, sometimes providing thirty eggs per cycle—all
chronicled in her book Confessions of a Serial Egg Donor. Her
lifestyle and dreams demanded an income well beyond what she could
earn as a physical fitness trainer. Living off “egg money” became a
way of life.
Julia’s donor career came to a traumatic halt with her twelfth donor
cycle. “Another Visit in Hell” is the chapter in which she describes
the consequences of a serious hormone imbalance that took months to
correct—deep depression, severe headaches, prolonged periods of
weeping, and suicidal thoughts. Help came from a reputable
gynecologist who provided proper medical care and a six-month
prescription of the anti-depressant Serafem. With time, her body
regulated its hormones naturally.
EXPLOITING DESPERATE WOMEN
Julia Derek’s story confirms, egg donation can be dangerous, even
though the fertility industry touts its safety. Beyond the
short-term dangers to body chemistry, no one knows the long-term
effects of the powerful drugs and hormones used to stimulate and
control the donor cycle. And the ovaries can be damaged during
removal of eggs.
problems raised by egg donation go well beyond donor safety.
about the exploitation of financially strapped young women? At
twenty-four, it may be easy to thoughtlessly say that eggs are “just
DNA” when anticipating a $10,000 check. At thirty-four, things may
look very different when the woman starts her own family and comes
face-to-face with the reality that she has other children—in London,
New York, or San Francisco—whom she will never know or even see.
psychological effects of donation, like the physical, are impossible
to predict. One poor Ukrainian woman, whose eggs went to couples in
England, thinks of the ages and appearances of the children who are
half-brother or half-sister to her own two children. Her five
donations are a closely guarded secret: “I don’t want anybody to
know; for me it’s unpleasant that I have sold a part of myself. That
I have sold myself for money.” Her shame springs from the magnitude
of what she’s done—sold her genetic heritage, her eggs, some of
which have become her unknown children, for money. Her body and her
motherhood have been reduced to a commodity, sold at a price
established in a competitive market by buyers in search of the
for prospective parents, the search is for the perfect baby. It’s
not just about having a baby, any baby. It is about having a certain
kind of baby, a baby that can be designed by selecting the eggs of a
woman who is intelligent, beautiful, artistic, athletic, and from a
healthy family. But the moral ramifications of this project are
rather sinister—they’re eugenic. No, it’s nothing like the Nazi
eugenics programs of sterilization, euthanasia, and death camps.
Rather, it is best described as “consumer eugenics.”
Egg-donor recipients, as they are called, shop for eggs that have a
certain pedigree. They talk with egg brokers. They look at pictures
of potential donors and at pictures of their children, if they have
any. They study the answers to extensive donor questionnaires. They
may meet and interview prospective donors. Then, they purchase the
eggs that best match their desires, in preparation for creating
embryos by in vitro fertilization.
Additionally, they may use genetic screening to eliminate embryos
with genetic defects. Screening can also permit them to choose the
sex of their child, if that is one of their goals.
this destroys the meaning of parenting and family. Children are not
seen as a gift and certainly not as a
“heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127). These children are
“made,” not “begotten.”
root, this approach to parenting is profoundly gnostic. It rejects
the world as it is. It separates who we are from our bodily nature.
The human will is the real self, and our bodies and all else are but
raw material from which to fashion the satisfactions of our desires.
human body, kinship, and intergenerational obligations are treated
as social constructs rather than essential parts of the created
order that, though broken, retains an essential goodness that can be
preserved and cultivated to the health and benefit of all
Biomedical technologies are being used, as C. S. Lewis worried, to
seize control of human nature. “[T]he power of Man to make himself
what he pleases means . . . the power of some men to make other men
what they please.” In Lewis’s words, the children of egg
donation are “artifacts”; they’re manufactured products.
The destruction of our concept of what it means to be
human—the “abolition of man,” to use the title of one of Lewis’s
books—is well underway.
Michael Poore is Executive Director of The
Humanitas Project: A
Center for Bioethics Education (www.humanitas.org),
located in Cookeville, Tenn. As director of The
he writes and speaks on a wide variety of topics relating to
bioethics and biotechnology, as well as on issues related to
Christian discipleship in a post-Christian culture.
BreakPoint Worldview Magazine, October, 2006, reprinted with
permission of Prison Fellowship, P.O. Box 1550, Merrifield, VA