Young Women’s Eggs: Elite and Ordinary

Posted by Elizabeth Reis, Biopolitical Times guest contributor September 15, 2011
Biopolitical Times
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My college-age daughter can earn $50,000-$100,000 just for being smart, beautiful, tall, and a Harvard student.  Yes, going to Harvard could actually pay off, even sooner than we might have imagined.  $100,000 would go a long way toward paying her tuition and fees, a fact that she has pointed out to me many times.  And all she would have to do is “donate” her eggs to an infertile couple willing to pay.

“Donate” is quite a misnomer.  Young women are getting paid handsomely, though there is outrageous discrepancy between what are considered “elite” and more ordinary eggs.  At the University of Oregon, where I teach, advertisements frequently appear in the student newspaper offering only $5000 for my students’ eggs.  Still, many are tempted.  I worry that young women are being unfairly lured by these exorbitant sums (even $5000 is a lot to a college student at a public university) to sign on to something that we can’t really be sure is safe in the long run.

One danger is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a potentially harmful condition caused by the daily hormone injections taken to produce high numbers of eggs.  In some cases OHSS can lead to blood clots, kidney failure, and electrolyte imbalance.  And my UO students may run an even higher medical risk than my daughter.  Because their eggs aren’t worth as much in a world that overvalues so-called “elite” eggs, these women may decide to undergo the egg stimulation and retrieval process multiple times to pay for rent, school, or their living expenses. The more times they go through the procedure, the greater the infusion of hormones and the greater their risk of ovarian hyperstimulation.