An ideal egg donation begins with an infertile couple seeking a young, healthy and intelligent woman to provide the genetic material to help start a family. In return, the altruistic donor is compensated for her time and the physical discomfort she endures. The cold realities, however, differ from this idyllic situation.
Female egg donation is a serious event with great risks and rewards. In the course of a typical egg donation, a donor, normally screened by an ob-gyn and a geneticist, is given a series of hormonal injections to help stimulate ovulation. The egg retrieval is a relatively painless procedure with side effects that include mood swings, abdominal pain and fainting. The medical procedure can, in rare cases, lead to future infertility in donors and even death.
Unfortunately, donors are sometimes misled about the health risks. Doctors working at fertility clinics have a conflict of interest because they are paid by infertile couples but give medical advice to donors. As a result of this conflict of interest, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has received complaints from donors that they were promised coverage for egg-donation-related medical costs only to find that the coverage was extremely limited or came with high deductibles.
Proponents of a free-market egg-donation system may claim that cases of abuse are rare, but the simple reality is that no one knows the true scale of abuse. The Centers for Disease Control is only required to ask fertility clinics how many successful births result from donor eggs. They don't ask important questions like the amount of times a donor has previously donated, reported side effects or long-term medical issues.
With practically no government regulation and increasingly astronomical compensation prices, the blossoming egg donation system is rife for potential abuses. Donors have financial incentives to cover up their medical history, and growing evidence suggests that repeated egg donation may result in decreased fertility for the donor and damaged eggs for the recipient. Without a system to monitor and control egg donations, both donors and recipients could be abused.
Perhaps most glaring is the lack of substantive knowledge about the long-term health risks. Female egg donations are a relatively new procedure, first started in Israel in 1986. Because egg donations are often anonymous, and donors are not tracked, there is a void of medical research. There is a need for information to help medical professionals and policy experts target emerging problems or trends.
To remedy the lack of available knowledge and limit the influence of a market system on egg donation, the federal government should increase regulation. In coordination with unbiased medical experts, the federal government should create a national register of egg donors and authorized fertility clinics. Equally important would be the implementation of a maximum limit on egg-donor compensation; in 2007, an ASRM ethics report suggested a $5,000 maximum. Lastly, the government should require that fertility clinics fully disclose their medical coverage plans to both donors and recipients.
A national registry would help identify budding developments, highlight ineffectual treatments and health risks, and allow fertility clinics to know how many times a specific donor has given eggs before. A limit for compensation would serve to reimburse women for the time, stress and physical risks they take while discouraging high payouts that could negatively influence poor and desperate donors. Allowing for full disclosure will help donors and recipients make informed decisions.
The formulation of an effective national registry system will take time, and in the absence of government intervention, citizens and communities should help. By providing space to potentially unreliable and unsafe fertility clinics, college newspapers around the country - the ‘Prince' included - could endanger well-meaning community members.
The ‘Prince' business office reserves the right to "reject any advertising" but it has no guidelines that bar ads for unsafe or unproven products. I urge our Business staff to exert greater care in soliciting advertisements.
College newspapers are tasked with providing their communities the best possible news and information. This charge should not end in the newsroom but should continue into the business office. With a lack of governmental regulation, the current system of free-market driven egg donation is prone to the same neglect and extravagances of Wall Street. The recent economic meltdown should stand as a reminder to the dangers of an unregulated market.
Michael Collins is a sophomore from Glastonbury, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com.