Stem Cell Research & Cloning

Egg Donor Business (for Embryonic Stem Cell Research & Fertility Clinics) Booms on Campuses

Students offered up to $35,000 to sell eggs

Five years after a trade group tried reining them in, fertility clinics and brokers are bidding up prices for eggs sold by cash-strapped college women with top test scores and picture-perfect looks…

New technologies tied to the Internet have turned the business into a global bazaar of egg merchants, with little regulatory oversight…

The pressure on college students — the most coveted donors — is likely to grow.

 

Advertisements in campus newspapers and on websites plead daily. “Egg Donors Needed. $10,000,” says one in The Daily Californian, the student newspaper at the University of California, Berkeley.

The ad, from a San Diego broker called A Perfect Match, seeks women who are “attractive, under the age of 29” and have SAT scores above 1,300.

Eggs have been traded almost since the fertility industry started 30 years ago. But now, new technologies tied to the Internet have turned the business into a global bazaar of egg merchants, with little regulatory oversight.

Classified-ad website Craigslist publishes 150 ads on a typical day. A Web search for “egg donor” at Google produces dozens of links to advertisers. As other nations curtail the practice — Canada did so in 2004 — the USA is becoming the industry’s last bastion.

“We are selling children,” Harvard Business School professor Debora Spar says in a new book, The Baby Business. Spar wants a national debate on bringing order and safety to an industry in which spending on everything from fertility drugs to eggs has mushroomed to an estimated $3 billion a year.

Donors typically are 18 to early-30s, when women are most fertile and eggs are healthiest. They must pass medical and psychological tests before brokers and clinics shop their information among prospective parents.

Donors take hormone-boosting shots for about a month to stimulate production. Ten to 15 eggs are extracted with a needle from the donor, under sedation, and combined with sperm to create an embryo that is later inserted into the would-be mother’s womb.

The pressure on college students — the most coveted donors — is likely to grow. A sharp increase in embryonic stem-cell research programs across the USA in the past year created a new market for more donors as scientists use eggs to find medical cures.

State lawmakers, citing health and ethical concerns, are now stepping in.  In Arizona, the House just passed bills that would ban donor payments and require doctors to tell women about health risks that in rare cases include death. The legislation is now before a Senate panel. Republican Rep. Bob Stump, who wrote the bills, says he worries the industry is taking advantage of vulnerable young women burdened by student loans.

In California, Democratic Sen. Deborah Ortiz is pushing a bill filed last month that would limit payments to donors for the state’s fledgling embryonic stem-cell program.

Her bill also would require doctors to inform women about dangers.

[03/16/2006 –  Page 1A By Jim Hopkins USA TODAY BERKELEY, Calif]