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You can’t make an omelette …


The donation of human ova to infertile women wasn’t something I’d given much thought to.

Why should I? I’ve never intended to start a family, no-one I knew was considering becoming an egg donor or recipient and I’m not even a woman. It was clearly an issue for the ‘none of my business’ basket.

Then about ten years ago my most unfavourite living bioethicist, Peter Singer, gave a public lecture on the morality of commercialised egg donation. I’d better get along to find out what not to think about it.

Singer didn’t disappoint.

He was not only in favour of paying women to donate eggs because it gave impoverished college students a chance to get some cash and infertile women a chance to have children. He thought it would be a good thing because it would increase the genetic distribution of ‘superior’ people (i.e. those healthy, smart and beautiful enough to be selected by market forces to donate the majority of eggs).

Eugenics. Urrgh! How can the child of Holocaust survivors be such a fucking Nazi?

Naturally he failed to even mention the debilitating health effects hyperovulation can have on egg donors.

So thanks to Singer I now knew I was definitely against commercial egg donation. I didn’t want to see impoverished women strip mined for their ova so that infertile couples could have ‘the most fashionable baby on the block’.

But still, this seemed a pretty marginalise practice of only abstract concern. I didn’t know any egg donors and my fears of the abuse of the fertility of young women for corporate profit were something for the distant future, right?

Fast forward ten years and many of my fears have come to pass, and then some.

Claire Burns, Raquel Cool and Sierra Falter have recently founded ‘We are egg donors‘, the first self-advocacy group for women who have donated ova. They are concerned primarily with promoting public discussion of egg donation and providing a platform for donors to tell their stories.

Ms Cool tells something of her own story on the ‘Our bodies ourselves‘ website and it doesn’t make comfortable reading.

Not only does the commercial egg donation industry demonstrate little concern for the well-being of donors it actually profits by destroying their reproductive health.
By offering its services to the very women whose fertility it damages with its almost unregulated practices.
Today’s donor is tomorrow’s client.

My gut instinct is that the entire industry should be shut down and those unable to have children should be sent to adoption agencies (which are not without their own problems. *sigh*).

But I know too well that prohibition will simply drive the practice underground or overseas, opening the way for even greater abuse. This is what has already happened in Australia with commercial surrogacy.

The only way forward I can see is to promote public discussion prioritising the voices of donors. Which is precisely what the women from ‘We are egg donors’ seek to do.

If you or anyone you know is thinking of becoming either an egg donor or recipient I urge you to visit their site and educate yourself about the nature of this exploitative industry. Then think very hard on whether you wish to become part of it.

From → gender

  1. Egg donors are compensated financially for their time and trouble. The procedures are explained to them in detail, along with a mind-numbing recitation of the possible side effects.

    I know this because my old roommate was a donor. I helped her with the injections, and she suffered a few weeks of pissy moods and water retention. Then it was over, and she was $5000 richer.

    Your concerns about “strip-mining” are misplaced. If a woman wants to have a medical procedure, how is it any of your business? She’s happy, the recipient is happy, but they still shouldn’t do it because it makes you feel icky about exploitation?


    • Read the accounts behind the links Sasha.

      Your friend was lucky.
      Perhaps she struck one of the ethical agencies.
      If the sample on the “Weareeggdonors” website are representative, such agencies are the exception.


    • And even if the entire industry was ethical, there is still a broader public interest in any practice that promotes eugenics.
      How would our society look after a few generations of fad driven designer babies?
      What happens when a disease gets into a monocrop?
      (BTW, I object to commercial sperm donation on the same grounds)


  2. It wasn’t an “agency”, it was a proper university hospital-affiliated fertility program.

    How would our society look after a few generations of fad driven designer babies?

    Remember, these procedures are rare, done for the small fraction of women who are unable to conceive in the traditional manner. So I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. If there were a widespread outbreak of female infertility and egg donation/IVF became the norm, then I agree there would be cause for concern.


  3. It wasn’t an “agency”, it was a proper university hospital-affiliated fertility program.

    That would explain it.
    My understanding is that over the past few years commercial egg donation agencies have spread like topsy in the US and now account for the majority of egg donation.

    Your point about the current rarity of the procedure is extremely relevant.

    Call me paranoid if you will but my fear is that the large profits being made from this procedure and the mainstreaming of the industry will result in a marketing megaphone being applied to it that will eventually lead to it becoming a ‘lifestyle’ rather than medical choice for some couples (unlike donors, the risk to recipients is very low). You can already see this in the US with some risky pharmaceuticals that were originally developed to treat serious mental illness.

    Even more so, the marketing of such procedures using eugenics arguments will lead to even greater stigmatisation of ‘less than perfect’ children.


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