Eggs, wombs and the economy: Hard times fuel a buyers’ market

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky December 16, 2008
Biopolitical Times
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Several recent articles discuss the effects of the economic crisis on the egg and surrogacy markets. The Wall Street Journal's story, under the too-cute title "Ova Time," leads with reports from fertility clinics about "a surge in the number of women applying to donate eggs or serve as surrogate mothers for infertile couples."

WSJ quotes the president of a Chicago egg and surrogacy brokerage saying that inquiries from young women are up 30% in recent weeks, to about 60 calls a day. "We're even getting men offering up their wives," she reports.

And now that it's a buyers' market, she says, "Some people are looking for a 6-foot Swedish volleyball player with 39 ACTs, and they'll take their time."

An MSNBC story covers the up-tick in markets for sperm, blood, and hair as well as eggs: "Seeking quick cash in a tanking financial market, would-be sellers of a variety of body products…are filling waiting rooms and swamping agencies with inquiries," it reports.

MSNBC health writer JoNel Aleccia tried to get numbers to back up accounts from the operators of fertility clinics and egg and surrogacy agencies. She called the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, understandably thinking that the trade organization would have that information.

But ASRM public affairs director Sean Tipton seemed less than pleased with the question, perhaps because the fertility industry is loathe to admit that money might enter into a young woman's decision to seek cash for her eggs (though its Ethics Committee has published guidelines on "financial compensation" for same). "I guess I could imagine economic difficulty inspiring increased inquiries," Tipton said. "But egg donation is so complicated, donors are unlikely to do it only for the money."

In any case, Tipton was unable to help out with any data - because it doesn't exist. There is no central registry of women who provide eggs or carry pregnancies for other people, and the government doesn't even request data on egg retrieval cycles that are halted before completion. As reporter Aleccia delicately puts it, "the largely unregulated industry lacks a national data source."

Previously on Biopolitical Times: