Dim economy drives women to donate eggs for profit
* Story Highlights
* Poor economy driving more women to sell eggs to
* 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 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
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
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
"It is such a long, agonizing process," Michelle said.
"It's six to eight weeks of poking and probing and blood
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
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."