The Price of Perfection

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I remember seeing an advertisement asking for egg donors when I was a junior in college. Although I don’t think I ever seriously considered donating, the ad intrigued me and I found myself clicking around the Internet for a good portion of an hour.

The specifications for everything from eye color to SAT scores fascinated me and, I have to admit, the level of compensation was tempting. After mulling around for some time, I closed the ad and forgot all about egg donation.

That was until I saw a study on egg-donor compensation published by Aaron Levine, a bioethicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Levine sampled over 300 college newspapers and found that almost one-quarter of advertisements offered payments in excess of $10,000, a violation of standards set by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. In addition, nearly one-quarter of the advertisements listed specific physical requirements such as hair color and height for potential donors—also against the society’s guidelines.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that Levine found advertisements offering more than $20,000 for a single egg, because I remember seeing ads that offered as much as $100,000 for one donation. What surprised me was that these payments were unethical. Since I had seen so many advertisements offering exorbitant amounts of money, I assumed that it was the norm.

To me, this isn’t even the most interesting part. What has always fascinated me are the physical specifications that some couples and donor agencies seek. One ad that I found online asked for a woman who was a model, a varsity athlete, younger than 29 years old and had attended a top 10 university. For this truly exceptional woman the couple was willing to pay $75,000. My question: Who fits this criterion? I don’t know anyone that has been blessed with that kind of perfection.

Furthermore, the quality of the egg is the largely determining factor in the success of in vitro fertilization—not physical characteristics or intellect. Dr. Edmond Confino, a reproductive specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, shared my concerns about holding donors to such high standards of physical beauty. “There is no scientific evidence linking intelligence or SAT scores with offspring. Even beauty is not guaranteed,” he said.

Initially I thought the easiest way to make this industry more humanitarian and less materialistic would be to enact stricter regulations, but that isn’t as easy as it sounds.  If you regulate too strongly, you cause a shortage of donations and drive potential parents to other countries in hopes of finding a donor, said Confino.

I’m not exactly sure where I stand on the issue. I know that I would never seriously consider being a donor, but I don’t frown upon those who do. I don’t think I would ever consider using a donor either. I would prefer to adopt a child. But, I think some people ask for these unrealistic characteristics and are willing to pay donors huge sums of money because having a child is fulfilling their life-long dream of having a family. I don’t think the ethics of it all even cross most people’s minds. At its core, it is an emotional issue and the lines of ethicality have a tendency to blur when you are that invested in something.

- blog authored by Brigitt Hauck

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