Scattered along the bulletin boards of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts (and many other buildings, I assume) are flyers with smiling, clean young women and some fat-cheeked babies. These photoshopped creatures have appeared on the BU cork boards to ask for donations from the contents of each female passerby’s uterus. Compensation for this egg donation is advertised at up to $10,000 — which is technically the limit, as designated by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Although this compensation limit is not actually enforced by law, one group of women is challenging this regulation on the grounds of “illegal price-fixing.” They have also pointed out the gender disparity here: the sale of human sperm has no price restriction. It should be noted, however, that sperm is typically sold for $75 to $100, while females are compensated anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000 for their eggs with special cases reaching upwards of six digits (!!!).
Despite this monetary gap, sperm does not need much of a price ceiling because there is no shortage of donors; the process is relatively simple. For female donation, however, the process can impact several weeks of a woman’s life, since local hormone injections to the uterus can cause a variety of complications for around a month after the operation. These circumstances surrounding compensation for female donation vs. male donation are respective and unique, and should not be ignored.
However, many women still disagree with a compensation ceiling for donation, and would rather each woman be allowed more legal rights to her compensation. Although there is no real legal enforcement for the $10,000 limit, I must agree that it is only fair that either sex’s donations are treated with similar (but appropriate and deliberate) regulations.
Since the compensation ceiling may change within the coming years, my plans are slightly up in the air. However, even though I do not know when, I do know that one day, I will strongly consider donating my eggs to help pay off my student debt. Is it immoral? Maybe. Will my grandmother disapprove? Quite possibly. Is it weird that there could be little half-me’s running around the planet? Absolutely. Do I care? I don’t think so. $10,000 in exchange for STD testing, free genetic disorder testing, free fertility testing and a few measly weeks of hormones sounds like a steal to me.
That all sounds crude, I know; and I should elaborate to avoid oversimplifying the process or brushing over the cons of egg donation, because there are many. The most common long-term effect is that one in five women who donate their eggs experiences some sort of psychological trauma; many women feel regret or guilt over contributing to the birth of a child whose life they are not involved with. This mental trauma is the most common negative outcome of donation, and I do acknowledge that I could end up in this boat, if I choose to donate.
Along with psychological trauma, I must admit that the entire preparation process sounds uncomfortable to say the least. After tons of screenings, donors must switch to the assigned form of birth control pills, give themselves shots each day for around ten days, abstain from sex for about a month, attend daily ultrasounds and blood draws, and endure extreme ovarian swelling to the size of a grapefruit—which apparently feels as though the uterus becomes a waterbed, or perhaps is full of live goldfish.
It has yet to be determined whether or not these swell-inducing hormones contribute to cancer susceptibility or infertility rates, which are the main potential health concerns. However, the process of egg donation has presented no significant health risks thus far. After all of this preparation comes the actual procedure, which is relatively quick and painless. After the procedure, minor side effects may include intense cramping, pain, menstrual cycle alteration or possible infection of the uterus.
Despite all of these side effects, I think it is important to note the happiness and satisfaction it could bring to give the gift of a child to a mother previously unable to conceive. Egg donation can be an incredibly positive psychological experience — it is a kind and generous gift. This emotional and spiritual fulfillment is often the driving factor behind donation, not the money. I know that if I donate, this kindness to another woman experiencing hopelessness, disappointment and even loneliness would bring me great joy and satisfaction. And, while I speak frankly and jokingly about the money, I do truly feel passionate about reproductive rights. I know that, if I am ever swelled to the size of Violet Beauregard and trapped on my couch with excruciating cramps and five different varieties of potato chips, I will push through. I will endure — not just in the name of reducing my student debt, but in the name of helping complete another woman’s family portrait.