The Emerging Market for Frozen Eggs

This seems a reasonably good follow-up to a post about the egg market from a couple of days ago.   I’ll start with some background which you can probably skip if the market for gametes is a subject you are familiar with.

I’ve written a  lot about sperm and egg donors here, and about the market for gametes.   It’s clear that there are important differences between the market for eggs and that for sperm.   Historically one difference has been is that sperm has been banked–collected and frozen for later use–while eggs have not been.

If you stop to think about it, there are many ramifications of this difference.   Because you can bank sperm there are independent entities that do nothing but collect, store and sell sperm.   If you need sperm you browse through extensive catalogs that list the characteristics of the men who provided it.   And you can order from anywhere–it’s a world-wide market.    Of course, other people are doing the same thing and when many people are drawn to the same characteristics, you can get potentially end up with many many offpsring from one source of sperm.

Then there’s pricing.    While you can structure the front-end of the deal so that men are being paid for time/trouble rather than sperm, it’s pretty clear (to me anyway) that those who purchase from banks are buying sperm.   You decide how much you need and you pay for that much–subject to availability, of course.

If by contrast you can only get fresh eggs you end up with a market that looks different.    You can still shop for an egg provider but you have to shop locally.  You have to be matched with the provider and you have to work together closely so that the eggs are available at the time you are ready for IVF.   The woman providing the eggs provides them for a specific person (whether known or unknown) and I think that person is entitled to take all the eggs–however many there are.   (I am assuming this is true–without freezing, what else could be done with them before you could freeze them?)   It’s much clearer that you are being paid for time/trouble (without regard for number of eggs).  From the buyer’s point of view, there is no “per egg” price–for the fee is fixed in advance of information about how many eggs you’ll get.

But all this has changed.  The fresh egg vs. frozen sperm market was the result of technological limitations, not ideological choices.  As is so often the case, technology has changed and now you can freeze eggs.   As the article recounts, this means there are now egg banks that are essentially akin to sperm banks.

This leads me to think back on the work of Rene Almeling.   (I wrote a fair bit about her book, Sex Cells, some time ago.)   Her observations about the operation of gender in the gamete market were fascinating.   It seems to me that the question now is how much the new technology will change the experience of male and female gamete providers.

The experience of the recipients (the users of the gametes) will change, too.  Those using eggs and IVF in the past dealt with layers of added uncertainty about the availability and quality of the eggs.   I suspect it would be very hard not to envision to provider going through the last stages of the process to provide the eggs.  But in the future, you would be able to order (probably on-line) and know that, apart from the vagaries of FedEx, your eggs (the specified number) will be ready and waiting whenever you are.

And then there is pricing.   Here’s the key page from one of the egg banks.   It appears that eggs are sold by the half-dozen.   (I wonder why six is the chosen number?)   But if you want extras, you can indeed by them “fee per egg.”   If it wasn’t clear before that you were buying the eggs (rather than the service that leads to them) it sure looks to me like it is now.

Where will all this lead?  I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.  I don’t think you’ll have the same “too-many-offspring” problems because you won’t see women donating thousands or even hundreds of eggs.   And it’s early days yet–the supply of frozen eggs is still quite limited.   But we’ll all stay tuned, shall we?


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