Dim economy drives women to donate eggs for profit
* Story Highlights
* Poor economy driving more women to sell eggs to fertility clinics
* An egg donor is typically compensated between $5,000 and $10,000
* Risks include ovarian hyperstimulation
syndrome, when ovaries become enlarged
* Women who smoke are ineligible to donate
By Stephanie Smith
NEW YORK (CNN) -- With a full load of classes,
two young children and her bills piling up,
Michelle decided to face her economic straits in
a pretty unorthodox way.
She is donating her eggs to an infertile couple.
"The cost of living is crazy right now, with two
kids, gas prices and rent. ... I'm living
paycheck to paycheck," said the 24-year-old, who
did not give her last name to protect her
identity. "I just really need the money to finish
Michelle is not alone. As the nation's economy is
slumping, some fertility clinics say interest in
donating has surged.
"We are seeing an increase in inquiries, but
we're not sure if it's due to the economy or
increased awareness," said Dr. Susan Willman, a
reproductive endocrinologist at the Reproductive
Science Center of the Bay Area. In July 2007, the
Reproductive Science Center received 120 calls
inquiring about egg donation. This year, that
number jumped to 158 calls. VideoWatch more from
Dr. Sanjay Gupta on selling eggs »
"We are so inundated right now," said Robin von
Halle, president of Alternative Reproductive
Von Halle said that 30 to 50 inquiries a day from
potential donors come in to her Chicago,
Illinois, agency, which connects would-be parents
with donors and surrogates. A year ago, it would
have been 10 to 30, she said.
Talking to other people in the field has
convinced von Halle that applications from
potential donors are up "across the board."
The increase in inquiries correlates with tough
economic times, von Halle said. "I know that's
why they call us, for that financial
remuneration," she said. "They don't like to
openly admit that, but some people are saying
"I think there is a spike more for financial
reasons," said Mahshid Albrecht, manager of Donor
Services at the Reproductive Science Center. "But
is that the only reason? Probably not."
An egg donor is typically compensated between
$5,000 and $10,000. Experts say that although
most women donate out of desire to help infertile
couples, the financial allure is real.
"It's important to understand that if a young
woman walks into a clinic and says she wants to
be an egg donor, the clinic doesn't just sit down
and say, 'Sure' and hand them money," said Dr.
Mark Hornstein, president of the Society of
Assisted Reproductive Technology. "There are
national guidelines. It's a tightly orchestrated,
And it's not an easy process.
Before a single egg is cultivated, a donor must
undergo a battery of psychological and physical
exams. That vetting process can last from 30 to
40 days, and 90 percent of women are eliminated
before a single egg is culled.
Once a donor is selected, she is injected with
powerful hormones for up to three weeks to
promote egg production. There are also blood
tests and up to 10 visits to the fertility center
for ultrasound monitoring.
"It is such a long, agonizing process," Michelle
said. "It's six to eight weeks of poking and
probing and blood work."
Then there are the risks. The most dangerous is a
condition called ovarian hyperstimulation
syndrome, when ovaries become enlarged. Although
most short-term risks are mild -- bloating,
weight gain and abdominal pain -- less is known
about long-term risks.
Women who smoke, have a body mass index above 30
or have a history of gynecologic problems are
ineligible to donate.
Despite the intensive screening, ethical
questions still linger about fertility for
"In an ideal world, it would be nice to not have
to give financial compensation," Weller said.
"But I work for a living trying to help people,
and I get paid for it. Is that OK? Yeah, I think
"These women have something no one else can give," she adds.
Michelle says that although her finances drove
her to donate, she's also motivated by wanting to
"The best thing I've ever been in my life is a
mom, and to help someone else is a cool
opportunity," said Michelle. "Knowing that it
works is much better than the money."
A 28-year-old in Chicago, Illinois, Melissa, who
has donated her eggs four times, told the Chicago
Sun Times much the same thing.
"I have two children of my own, and I definitely
wanted other families to be able to have that
opportunity," she told the Sun Times. "For my
family, [the money] wasn't a necessity, but it
was a nice nest egg if things should get worse.
My husband is in construction, and ... that's not
doing so well right now."