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Tuesday, 15. May 2007

Sell Me An Egg Or Two?

Reproductive medicine fascinates me for the weird trajectories of futures it seems to encompass, and the myriad ethical and philosophical puzzles it poses around what it means to be human. After all, this is human ingenuity veering almost into the Frankenstein territory. So, on idly scanning the front page of New York Time, this story touching on the debates around payment of large sums of money to young women for giving up their eggs caught my attention. The story began with the economics of "donating" eggs:

"Though many egg donors derive great satisfaction from knowing that they helped someone start a family, the price of eggs has soared in recent years as demand has increased, and the sizable payments raise controversy. A survey published this month in the journal Fertility and Sterility, “What Is Happening to the Price of Eggs?” found that the national average compensation for donors was $4,217. At least one center told the authors of the paper that it paid $15,000. Many centers did not respond."

While clearly large sums of money are involved in the upstream of the "egg supply chain", what this article doesn't tell me, and what I would like to know, is what are the costs for a recipient of these eggs? If I will have to take a guess, such procedures would cost, perhaps, 10x the price of the eggs, i.e., say $100,000. This would lead to the hypothesis that folks who can afford to pay such prices to have quasi-biological children* obviously have serious incoming cash flows, and perhaps comes from the "power couples who want to have kids late in life" demographic. And it would also explain the part of the article, which I found most odius:

"Meanwhile, advertisements recruiting students from elite universities to donate promise tens of thousands of dollars, and donor agencies have sprung up, appealing to would-be parents with online videos and photo galleries of donors."

It is a no-brainer that dem folks who are shopping would prefer an Ivy League egg over say some ghetto egg. Yet given the language employed in this snippet of speech by someone, who had donated egss thrice, and who supposedly finished graduate school

"“They all think I’m crazy,” she said. “If the topic comes up, and I tell friends I’ve done it, they’re like: ‘Why? Oh my God, aren’t you afraid you have a baby out there?’ They’re so stunned and shocked.”
Then she tells them how much she was paid. “And then they go, ‘O.K., I understand now, that’s cool,’ ” she said. “People understand the money.”"

I think "educated" eggs wouldn't make much of a difference in the end anyway.

* If I ever find myself in this situation, and still want to bring up children, adoption is the route I shall take.


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I agree

At both my semi-elite undergrad uni and my state school grad uni, the student newspapers have always contained ads urging women to consider egg donation... so clearly the statement "recruiting women from elite universities" is an example of the NYT only telling part of the story. That is to say, they're recruiting from the elites, to be sure, but they're also recruiting from Ordinary State.

That aside: make sure you read the Slate article on assisted reproduction (www.slate.com). It doesn't deal directly with egg donation, but with the unforeseen drawbacks of manipulating conception -- one of which being that babies born to infertile couples are starting to grow up into infertile adults, because they're inheriting whatever genes made it impossible for their parents to conceive "naturally."

Thus it is a few exponential generations until an infertile society, Handmaid's Tale, and all of that -- or an infertile society where all reproduction is done in the lab and is controlled by doctors and Big Med. Atwood or Huxley -- take your pick.

Most importantly, I agree that I would choose to adopt rather than push for fertility treatments. For reasons which have a little to do with drugs and genes but have much more to do with taking what is already in the world and nourishing it.

And yet I know I won't fault anyone for choosing the other path.

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