Egg Donor Motivation: Sacrificing Truth for Profit?

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Over at Jezebel, Jenna Marotta asks (here), “Do Egg Donors Lie?” Ms. Marotta was rejected as an egg donor about her experience because she admitted to having a family history of depression.  She wonders whether other women lie about mental health issues in order to become compensated egg donors.

I can’t help thinking that in a country with so many anti-depressants prescribed, where so many people live long enough to develop cancer (and survive), some women will lie to donate their eggs for guaranteed compensation. As the founders and directors of egg donation agencies I spoke with confirmed, there is no such thing as a donor with a perfect family history.  * * *

While there are a lot of inquiries from women looking into donate, the number of women accepted remains very low. At Alternative Reproductive Resources, [president and founder Robin] von Halle says that although she receives up to 40 or 50 inquiries a day, perhaps five percent of those women go on to donate (“You have to be accepted and you also have to follow through” with the estimated three month process, she says.) Part of the reason the rejection rate is so high is that women may not know what factors will make them ineligible to donate their eggs — clinics don’t necessarily make the information public. “If the secret is out, then no one will tell the truth on their applications,” says [Mary] Fusillo [, founder and director of a Houston surrogacy agency]. [Souad] Dreyfus [director of a Florida surrogacy agency] has another take: “If you put this list out there, a lot of people will disqualify themselves,” as I would have done. But this lack of transparency may cause women to get their hopes up in vain. This is especially troubling given that many women consider egg donation after a life setback –- job loss, unexpected expenses, or a family tragedy might leave them emotionally and fiscally vulnerable. “A lot of young women, when they make that decision, there’s no room for rejection,” Dreyfus says. * * *

“It would be a complete lie to say donors are not motivated by financial motivation,” says [Rachel] Campbell [, a social worker at a Boston surrogacy agency]. “But for the donor who gets through the process” -– medical screening, psychological screening, genetic testing, being matched with a couple, interfacing with the egg donation agency and the couple’s fertility clinic, legal counseling, hormone injections, egg retrieval –- “their motivation is something bigger, they’re doing something more meaningful than just trying to make a quick buck.” Of the five donors I interviewed for this story, four of them said money was the catalyst but that they did not turn to egg donation as a “last resort” (the fifth donor waived her fee –- she donated her eggs to secure her brother-in-law and his wife a place at the front of the line to get matched with their own donor).

The description that surrogates themselves offer — that “money was the catalyst” for egg provision strikes me as especially important. The fertility industry relies the myth that egg donors are purely altruistic actors.  Marotta’s sources suggest otherwise (and in that sense, Marotta’s piece is consistent with the critiques offered by Kim Krawiec, for example, here and here).

Marotta also reports, without much explanation, that “many women consider egg donation after a life setback –- job loss, unexpected expenses, or a family tragedy might leave them emotionally and fiscally vulnerable.”  I would be curious to read more about the relationship between these “life setbacks” and the timing of egg transfers.  The data might or might not suggest psychological or financial motives that are otherwise obscured.

-Bridget Crawford

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