August 12th, 2009
10:49 AM ET

Ivy League women get offers for their eggs

By Jennifer Adaeze Anyaegbunam
CNN Medical Intern

One night, during one of my late study sessions at Harvard, my two best friends were kidding about donating their eggs to raise money for a student organization. Over the years we have seen a number of ads on Facebook and in our school paper seeking students’ eggs in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars. Economically speaking, when times are hard, Harvard women can rely on an ovarian stimulus plan.

“Oh, the investment bank fell through? That’s okay; I’ll just donate a few eggs,” one of them joked. “Fantastic! We can use your unborn children as our platinum sponsors,” the other replied.

While they weren’t being serious, there are people out there willing pay for an educated woman’s eggs, and when lofty compensation is involved some students are eager to donate. In the decade of the “designer baby,” it seems fairly obvious why prospective parents prioritize intelligence on their genetic shopping lists. Depending on specific fertility needs, aspiring parents seek out smart genes through both egg and sperm donation. Men are not compensated nearly as much as much as women because sperm donation is relatively quick and simple. In fact, men get only about $50, but some lucky ones, with Ph.D.s and graduate degrees, can get up to $100. For women, the egg donation process requires a number of medical exams, weeks of hormone treatments and a surgical procedure for retrieval of oocytes, or eggs. The entire process takes a total of 60 hours and carries a number of risks, such as ovarian hyperstimulation, bruising or hemorrhaging, and even the risk of infertility.

Despite lucrative offers for eggs in college newspapers, compensation for egg donation should reflect the inconvenience and discomforts associated with the procedure, and not personal characteristics, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The ASRM’s Ethics Committee Report, published in 2007, states that “Total payments to donors in excess of $5,000 require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate”. According to a survey of Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology participating egg donation programs, the national average for compensation was $4,200.

A number of egg donor agencies across the country have signed agreements, promising to follow the ethical guidelines outlined by the ASRM. There are several, however, that have not. These agencies and prospective oocyte recipients often place private advertisements in college newspapers offering compensation far beyond the ASRM’s recommendations. In 1999, a California based company, A Perfect Match, placed a $50,000 advertisement in The Crimson, Harvard’s College newspaper. In 2007 Elite Donors ran a $100,000 advertisement in the Crimson as well, according to the paper’s staff.  More recently, similar agencies have taken advantage of Facebook advertising, which allows solicitors to target females attending specific colleges. Only those who meet specific profile criteria are “eligible” to see the ad. Imagine being targeted as a suitable candidate while taking the “What animal is your Patronus quiz” on Facebook — ironic, right?

As a Harvard undergrad “eligible” to see these sorts of advertisements, I do have a few concerns. First, large payments are quite seductive and could cause a potential egg donor to discount risks to her health. Financial inducement may cause potential donors to disregard the emotional and psychological effects of having a child somewhere out there. Secondly, ASRM guidelines function to eliminate the purchase and sale of biological products. Payments are strictly meant to compensate for the medical inconveniences of an altruistic act. Because I attend a certain school, is my genetic material really worth more than yours? Is it really altruism if I can “make it rain” after donating eggs?

Most people want smart babies, but intelligence is not simply inherited from one’s biological mother. Yes some people are born with inherent talents, but most experts agree that we are all products of nature and nurture. Ivy parents don’t always have Ivy babies and vice versa. Therefore, I encourage prospective parents willing to pay such high prices not to be too disappointed if little Sally or John doesn’t turn out to be the brightest crayon in the box. (No refunds, returns, or credit!) Neither of my parents went to Harvard, but they did teach me how to read and the importance of hard work…for free.

If this Harvard gig doesn’t work out for me, at least I have about 300,000 nest eggs to fall back on.

What do you think – is it right to offer women with certain characteristics so much money for their eggs? Where do you draw the line between positively selecting for these characteristics, and eugenics? Do you think the financial compensation of oocyte donors should be regulated?

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. ngozi giwa -amu

    A very interesting view on the 'scramble for ivy league women egg donors'. in a world where we pre – order everything to suit our specific requirements, it seems we are crossing the line when pre – ordering the ultimate 'smart designer ivy league baby'
    Does it take a genius to nuture, teach and direct a child towards being the best they can be? it does not lie in the ivy league eggs, the eggs do not have the answer, the answer lies with the parenting itself. I know for a fact that both jennifer's parents did not attend Harvard, but both are hard working medical doctors who took the time to teach and nuture a child to be the best they can be. Both attended The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. My 1st daughter is a medical doctor and her 2 younger siblings are in medical school too, now i know for a fact that neither myself nor my husband attended ivy league colleges, its the parenting and taking the time out to teach and nuture that sets the child on the right path. Again the answer lies not in the eggs. Sally & John may not turn out as 'ordered' but their parents can start by setting them on the right path.

    August 12, 2009 at 16:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. CE

    Excellently written
    I now understand the author's point even better and it is one that I agree with.

    August 12, 2009 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Aima Giwa-Amu

    My college has a policy when using students for studies done by proffessors on how much they can be compensated, and in what form this compensation will be. I think 10,000 is a huge amount, and some non monetary compensation whould be considered. Young financially challenged women will probably only see the pay cheque, and not the negative ramifications of their decisions!

    August 12, 2009 at 18:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Dapo Adebayo

    Psycological ramifications should indeed be considered and carefully! Imagine this scenario, little John comes home from his 3rd year in college for the official Meet The Parents with his girlfriend of 2 years, and the love of little John's life just happens to look exactly like your wife, and has the exact same mannerisms as her! Gives a whole new meaning to 'She's like the daughter I never had!'

    August 12, 2009 at 18:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Claire

    Please watch this 13 minute video of Calla Papademas' story. She was a student at Stanford– beautiful, tall, athletic– who answered one of these egg donor ads. In an adverse reaction to Lupron, she suffered a stroke, brain damage, and now needs hormone replacement therapy permanently and can never have her own children. She is a different person.


    August 13, 2009 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Vivienne

    First sperm, then kidneys, now eggs! What next? All people think about is the monetary reward and never the health consequences. Thank you for highlighting the dangers involved

    August 13, 2009 at 02:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Cranky Uterus

    I don't want to judge people about the criteria they think important when finding an egg donor. I do want to chime in, because I was an egg donor recipient. I have a graduate degree, yet I chose an egg donor who was a H.S. graduate. My criteria for selection were: someone who is healthy, without really scary medical family history; someone who is kind to other people – someone who was hopefully donating their eggs mainly for altruistic reasons; someone who looked enough like me that I wouldn't get questioned all the time about why my baby doesn't look like me.

    However, I will tell you that when I first learned that I couldn't have a child with my own eggs, I was much more selective when considering donors. I wanted an exact replica of myself – same ethnicity, education, looks.

    The egg donor cycle didn't work, but I made a new friend. My egg donor is a lovely person and she thinks the same of me & my husband. And we ultimately adopted two children that don't look like either of us at all. Now I know that (to me, at least) superficial characteristics don't matter. My children of Mayan and Spanish heritage are super-smart and may some day attend Harvard. Yet their birth mothers and fathers likely didn't finish High School.

    Not sure where I'm going with this, I tend to ramble these days. I just wanted to share my perspective.

    August 13, 2009 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dawn

    There are several potential legal liabilities egg donors should contemplate in addition to the medical risks. My co-author, Brad Reich (Univ. of Puget Sound) and I (Dawn Swink, Univ. of St. Thomas) are finishing up a law review article on this very topic!

    August 13, 2009 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rose Chavez

      Has this article been completed – I am a MPH student at the UNM School of Medicine and am looking into the characteristics and consequences of women who are egg donors. Any contacts would be appreciated.

      In health & beauty,

      Rose D. Chavez

      October 6, 2010 at 16:52 | Report abuse |
  9. Gina Davis

    i really don't think it's appropriate to judge unless you've been in this situation personally. i am young, smart, well educated and infertile. it sucks. i adore my husband and we wanted to have 'our' baby, not 'a' baby. we tried, and tried, and tried everything...but nothing worked. so we've moved on to donor egg.

    we have the right to chose any kind of donor we want. this is a big decision for us, and not one that we wanted to have to make. we are making a baby, ordering a baby, whatever way you want to think about it. it's still very scary.

    women who are bright and work hard enough to be accepted into these schools are more likely to take their meds on time and show up for appointments. they are reliable and educated so they know what they're doing. that in and of itself is worth paying a premium for.

    August 13, 2009 at 21:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Frederick Anyaegbunam

    Thanks for the amazing insight Jennifer. I think what you've shown highlights the level we have degenerated to. I wonder how the parents would react if Sally or John don't turn end up in the Ivy League – or even worse – are simply not the College type at all! Perhaps they'd ask for a return on the 'faulty goods'. Or maybe they'll send them back to the lab for a little extra tweaking.

    I guess some eggs are just more equal than others.

    August 14, 2009 at 19:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. redplanet

    I wrote about this in the 70's when I was interviewing sperm donors at Stanford as a grad student for a research project. As far as I know I am the only one who designed research on the psychology of donors. At least I think I am the first.

    But here we are today. I am still fighting the design a kid industry because I stand squarely on the side of the one person no one talks about: the kid and his needs.

    I recently wrote:

    "This isn't news. It's business as usual. As long as someone who "really, really wants a baby" gets it, who cares about the human rights issue of the kid? No one in the design a family industry.

    Now we have genetic information so specialized we can order up a redhead with fast twitch fibers for running the distance. And when she wants to know, 'can I order up the parents I want', you have to explain, design-a-parent is still only a dream."

    Thank you Claire for posting the video of the egg donor from Stanford and her trauma. Egg donors too are used and abused.

    Just watch all the kids online trying to find their sperm donors and get a sense of where they came from . If you have never searched for a parent you can't understand genetic bewilderment. Before you fill your dream of having a designer baby, think of the nightmare you are creating for the kid who will never have a parent of his own.

    This works both ways, folks. Kids want their own parents, just like you wanted a baby of your own.

    August 16, 2009 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Tochukwu michelle mgbenka

    This whole thing is a bit crazy to me. Now we are playing God, 'creating a perfect little baby'. what is the fate of this child (who didn't ask to be born) when the 'perfect' parents divorce (he/she didn't ask to be caught in a dilemma)? what if (to ensure success) many ova are fertilized when only one is needed, are those humans 'wasted'? Can an egg donor accept an out-of-blue child many years later not mindin how awkward it is to her family? I don't think is fair to plan someone's life (their IQ, looks, temperament, etc). even before they have a say in it. This is a good article.

    August 19, 2009 at 03:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Nicole

    Of course 'better' donors are going to command better prices. It's simple supply and demand. Moreover, at our most basic level we are all hoping for the best offspring. It's generically programmed – that's why the beautiful, dynamic, smart people are more in demand as mates. I think people are deluding themselves to say that given the choice between an unattractive person without education and a beautiful personally successful one that anyone would choose the former.

    March 9, 2015 at 02:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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