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http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/08/05/selling.eggs/index.html

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
CNN

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 
school."

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 
Resources.

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 
that."

"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, 
stringent process."

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 
financial gain.

"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 
that's OK.

"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 
help others.

"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."