Egg Donors Fight the Oocyte Cartel

(Photo: Stéphane Moussie)

Alex Tabarrok explores the world of egg donation, which is heavily regulated by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).  The two organizations effectively limit egg donor compensation to $5,000-$10,000, acting as a “buyer’s cartel,” in Tabarrok’s words:

In 2011, Lindsay Kamakahi launched a class action suit against ASRM-SART challenging their horizontal price-fixing agreement as per se illegal under the Sherman Antitrust Act. ASRM-SART tried to have the case dismissed but a judge recently denied the dismissal in the process making it clear that the plaintiffs have a good case.

ASRM-SART argue that their maximum price is really about protecting women and that compensation “should not be so excessive as to constitute undue inducement.” Egg donation does involve extensive screening, time and some health risks. One would think, however, that the proper response for those interested in protecting women would be to ensure that the women are fully informed and that they are paid high wages not low wages.

Tabarrok also comments on the repugnance issues around egg and organ donation, a theme that has popped up on this blog before:

Although ASRM-SART may profit from restricting donor compensation there is another issue at large, the repugnance constraint. The repugnance and disgust centers of the brain are old and deep and often revolve around issues of body integrity, body products, hygiene, sex and death. Birth treads uneasily in many of these waters already and egg donation adds to this volatile mix issues of gender, personhood, identity and genetics all of which prime for a repugnance storm. The plaintiff’s case is sound but if the antitrust laws prevent ASRM-SART from limiting prices–or saying that they limit prices–and if egg donation were to become even more of a market in everything might there not be a backlash and an outright ban on compensated donors, as is the case in many other countries and for transplant organs in this country?

In a related post, Tabarrok discusses what happened when Canada banned the compensation of egg and sperm donors. Not surprisingly, donations flatlined.

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  1. V says:

    I recently looked into egg donation. I’ve got 3 degrees, am in good health, made ivy-league scores on my standardized exams, am under 30 etc. But, $10k wasn’t enough to entice me to go through such a rigorous process. My question is: if money doesn’t motivate women to donate, then what should? A desire to “spread one’s seed”? Liking the attention one gets from medical tests? Some form of altruism?

    Maybe I’m too much of a capitalist, but I wanted to know how much my genetic material was worth in the free market, and $10k wasn’t the right price for me.

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    • Litenarata says:

      I agree with V. For $10,000, I will not even consider thinking about egg donation. That’s a ridiculously low number.

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    • Zuki says:

      No you’re just greedy.. And besides your education matters not one iota.. Ever heard of altruism.

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    • marilynn says:

      They are not buying your genetic material. Think about it, what good would your genetic material be if you gave it to them with the caveat that you would not abandon your parental responsibilities to your child? Buying an egg is no different than buying a ticket to a show in advance…they are not buying the ticket for the paper its printed on, they are not selling them the ticket, they are selling them seats at a show. Who’d want the ticket if it did not let them into the show? The Ticket is just a necessary part of getting what you want later on.

      So Egg donors are selling their children in advance. They will after all become mothers when their children are born, they just won’t be there to raise them as the contracts they sign require them to abandon their parental duties upon the birth of their offspring created as a reproductive service. We are related to all our offspring equally whether we know the father or not makes no real difference ti the reality that they are your children, your just choosing not to raise the ones where you don’t know the dad because they don’t deserve your love and attention. They are not as special and important as the children you make with someone you love right? A person’s value as a member of their own family should be determined by whether or not their parents loved one another right? Otherwise they are not worthy of membership in their own family and really we’d just rather forget they even exist.

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  2. S says:

    I am immensely grateful to the anonymous egg donor we used to have our son. It was very much a business transaction. When we looked there was no shortage of applicants waiting to donate. $10k is a lot of money to a very big segment of the American population. I suspect that most are doing it for the money and that’s fine with me.

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  3. caleb b says:

    Here is an interesting thought: egg “donation” income is most likely taxable. Therefore, the higher the income of the donating woman, the lower her compensation. Given the high correlation between intelligence, good-looks, and income, the higher the quality of eggs (on average) the lower the compensation for donor. It’s a reverse pricing graph!!

    Obviously, this discourages the highest quality donors from being part of the pool…..unless of course you can catch high quality eggs when the donor needs the money the most…maybe college?

    I looked into donating sperm while i was in college. It was $100 a specimen if I agreed that the child could never contact me….and i could give an unlimited number of times. However, I would get $500 a sample if i agreed to let the kid contact me in 18 years….but i could only give two donations per state.

    I never found out if they shipped each sample to different states (effectively allowing me 100 donations), or if i had to travel myself.

    Call me totally weird, but i would love to have 100 children running around out there….genetically, I win.

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  4. Enter your name... says:

    I wonder how many people would actually be willing to do this for what amounts to one or two months’ pay for the average American household. This isn’t anything like as quick, simple, painless, and risk-free as a sperm donation. The process takes about two months, and some of that time involves daily visits to the doctor’s office. You take hormone pills for a month or sometimes longer to get your menstrual cycle aligned with the would-be mother’s. You then get daily hormone injections. You are not permitted to have sex during this time, even if you are using barrier contraception. (You can’t use non-barrier contraception, because it interferes with the egg harvesting.) You get exactly the same transvaginal ultrasounds that were described as “rape” in the recent discussions about abortion restrictions. Then you have surgery, which requires anesthesia and normally keeps you at the hospital for half a day (longer if anything goes wrong). You spend a week or so recovering, and have a follow-up visit to see whether anything got infected or any permanent damage was done to you (rare, but not impossible).

    I just can’t see very many people volunteering to do this for a month or two’s pay, especially if their earning potential is well above average.

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  5. FDUK says:

    I must say a free market in egg donation shares me. Will we get to the stage where payment is made depending on the attributes of the mother (beauty, intelligence, hair colour etc)? This seems wrong to me.

    In the UK there is a low level of compensation (£750) but some women share eggs with the clinic in order to get a discount on fertility treatment. However there is a shortage of eggs for donation.

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    • ruth nemzoff says:

      And who is regulating the sellers? I met a man who bought eggs for $2,000 from idealistic US college women and sold them for $10,000 in Australia. I was sicken to learn of this exploitation.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      Would you rather have higher payments to the women undergoing the hormone injections and surgery, or would you rather have an egg shortage? Would you rather pay more for scarce qualities than for common ones, or would you rather have a shortage of women from some ethnicities, temperaments, etc.?

      Right now, your system is (rather cleverly) exploiting women who need fertility treatment, by indirectly paying them far more than other women. Why is it okay to pay far more to a woman who has health issues, but it’s not okay to pay more to a woman with a higher level of educational achievement or a low risk of cancer or heart disease?

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