The Price of Eggs – Are the Guidelines Sexist?

In 2007, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) established voluntary guidelines that cap payments to egg donors at $5,000 generally and $10,000 with justification. However, a recent study by Aaron D. Levine, a bioethicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, found that many fertility recruiters are offering far more than this to young women who meet certain specifications in terms of age, appearance and talent. For example, advertisements at Brown University were as high as $50,000 with similar ads at Yale and Harvard offering $35,000.

Some people may ask: if so many fertility recruiters are not advertising in accordance with ASRM’s guidelines, why have these guidelines at all?

Well, Jacob M. Appel at the Huffington Post makes a good argument regarding donation and sexism that is worth looking at as the debate continues:

“Another, more disturbing underpinning may explain support for caps among some professional groups and right-wing activist: latent sexism. In a culture that generally allows competent adults to assume large risks in pursuit of financial advancement, we suddenly lower the tolerable risk threshold and wave the bloody shirt of “exploitation” when the financial gain will accrue to women through use of their distinctive reproductive biology. Critics of compensated surrogate motherhood and legalized prostitution and a market for eggs all speak the language of exploitation, but what they actually may fear is that women will harness their own sexuality for economic gain. If Ivy League sperm sold for $50,000 on the open market, “donors” would be viewed as enterprising young men, not potential victims of exploitation. In a world where men could donate eggs, our society would never accept even voluntary price controls, such as the ASRM’s, which exert “moral” pressure to keep prices artificially low. That does not mean that selling an egg is without its dangers, anymore than childbirth is without its dangers. In fact, the risks of childbirth are significantly greater. Shouldn’t a civilization that not only allows, but often expects, women to assume the hazards of childbearing without any financial compensation also trust these same women to decide whether selling their eggs is worth the risk?”

Remeber, ASRM’s primary purpose in creating these guidelines is a concern that a higher reimbursement rate will lead to the exploitation of women, although Mr. Appel does not agree with that. ASRM is worried that without these guidelines many women will become egg donors without fully knowing and appreciating the medical and psychological risks of egg donation because of the amount of money they can make doing it. The second concern that ASRM has is that a system with no payment cap would lead to positive eugenics where donors who have desirable traits will be paid more for their eggs than other donors. However, picking a donor with traits the parents deem desirable does not always ensure that the child created from those eggs will have the same traits. ASRM’s third concern is that charging a fair market value would not allow as many parents to enter the market. Not all would-be parents who turn to egg donation can afford to pay their egg donor $50,000 per donation, but many more are able to afford a fee of $5,000.

Do you think that the ASRM guidelines are “latent sexism” towards women who routinely bear the risks of childbearing without any compensation at all or proper for a procedure that entails medical and psychological risks to the donor? Should the compensation egg donors receive be capped by ASRM or be based on a fair market value model?

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