Egg Selling in India

Biopolitical Times
A surgeon's assistant handles surgery tools on a stand in the operating room.

The stories of women in India who sell their eggs rarely make news. Typically, neither the sellers in these transactions – who are hoping that the money they make will improve the lives of their families – nor the buyers – who want to use the eggs in efforts to have children – are fully aware of the risks that egg harvesting entails.

In large part, this is due to the feel-good stories promulgated by third parties that profit from the practice. An informative alternative to the fertility industry’s romanticized promotion of egg retrieval for profit has just been published by award-winning reporter Priyanka Vora in, a 3-year-old, US-based online daily news platform specializing in stories shaping contemporary India.

The first in this two-article investigative series is titled ‘No other way to earn money’: Why women from poor families become egg donors for infertile couples. It explains that the practice is increasingly common due to the rapid growth of the Indian fertility industry, a result of more affluent Indian women delaying childbirth until they experience declining fertility and turn to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) for help. Vora describes the experiences of egg providers as they undergo some 20 days of hormonal injections to increase the number of eggs available for surgical removal; the very limited information they receive about the serious side effects and occasionally lethal outcomes; and the stratified prices their eggs command, depending on each woman’s attractiveness (higher prices for light skin) and educational level (or in some cases, IQ test results).

Part Two focuses more specifically on ethical problems and medical risks. For example, Indian women who have suffered serious medical problems as a result of selling their eggs often are driven by financial pressures to undergo subsequent “donations.” As is the case in other countries, the absence of donor registries and of broad-based studies on the effects of this hormonal manipulation of young women’s bodies makes it impossible to document the incidence and prevalence of adverse effects. The interests of the clinics and intermediaries, part of the $15-billion global IVF industry, provide a rationale for playing down the side effects during recruitment of new donors.

Part Two also includes information provided by a vocal US critic of the practice, Jennifer Schneider, MD, PhD, whose daughter died of colon cancer following her third egg donation. Schneider’s subsequent research and publications raise compelling questions about cancer risks among egg donors.

The stories make clear how desperate many young Indian women are to give their children a better life – and to ensure that their daughters will not have to do as they have done. As one donor explained, “I would never wish this on my enemy.”


Diane Beeson is Professor Emerita of Sociology, California State University, East Bay; co-founder of the Alliance for Humane Biotechnology; and a former fellow at the Center for Genetics and Society. She has conducted research and published in leading sociology and medical journals on prenatal diagnosis, genetic testing, and social challenges of new reproductive technologies. 

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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