Where sperm and eggs are bought and sold, market forces operate. And as I get ready to close out 2010 I have a few observations about those forces and how they operate.
First, I have an ad from a sperm bank (Cryogenic Laboratories) that promotes their competitive prices. But what’s most interesting to me is that it lists the prices for “anonymous” vs. “identity” sperm. (I take it the latter is sperm where the provider has agreed to be identifiable at the wish of the child.) The difference in price ranges from $110-$165, depending on which bank’s prices I’m looking at.
Now it makes sense to me that you might pay more for an open identity donor. But it really isn’t that much more when you consider overall costs in ART. This adds to my skepticism about the cause of the UK sperm shortage, which is often asserted to be the institution of laws requiring that all donors be identifiable.
Second, there’s this tidbit from Time Magazine. If everything else goes on sale over the holidays, why shouldn’t sperm prices be slashed, too. Not much more to say about this–but it sure makes it look like a market just like all the other markets.
Finally, there’s this from the BBC, which I’ve actually had kicking around for a long time. It’s a suggestion from Laura Witjens, head of the UK National Donor Gamete Trust, that sperm donors “should possibly be reimbursed more than women who donate eggs.”
I kept thinking about this piece when I was writing about sperm providers generally a couple of weeks ago. Given the difference between the way sperm is gather vs. how eggs are gathered and factoring in the limited number of eggs women have vs. the essentially unlimited number of sperm men have, I find this suggestion superficially implausible. Obviously you should read the article, but I remain unconvinced.
But partly I just want to respond by reference to the market. In the US the compensation for providing eggs is far greater than that for providing sperm and there are apparently ample supplies of both commodities. This suggests that the lower price paid for sperm is ample and that increasing the compensation for sperm providers is unnecessary. Of course, Witjens is speaking from the UK, where the entire set-up is quite different.
It’s funny to find myself relying on arguments about the efficiency of markets–I’m not typically inclined to do that. But this is one place where I’ll stand on the evidence from the marketplace. We don’t really need to pay sperm providers that much more than we already are.
So much for end-of-the-year sperm shopping, 2010.