Here’s a recent story that revisits some familiar ground. I’ve written before (a number of times though not for quite a while) about the market for gametes in the US. This story reports a recent study that shows that many US organizations recruiting egg donors aren’t adhering to ethical standards. That’s something that ought to worry us, I think.
As the article notes:
Ethical standards set forth by the ASRM specify that donors should be at least 21 years old, and those between ages 18 and 20 should receive a psychiatric evaluation first.
Also, women are not to be paid for their eggs but compensated, equally, for their time. Donor traits such as college grades or previous successful donations should not result in higher payment.
I’m going to focus on the concerns underlying the second paragraph. It seems to me that for many people the idea that women are being compensated for their time and not their eggs seems non-obvious. Isn’t it true that at the next stage in the business someone is actually buying the eggs? (I guess I am not sure about this–I have never purchased eggs. And I’m not sure if you pay for the eggs separately from the IVF that is also necessary.)
Certainly with sperm you pay (or you used to pay) per straw of sperm. If you wanted more straws you paid more. I can understand that the structure of the egg market might have been different when only fresh (as opposed to frozen) eggs could be used. But as frozen eggs become a possibility, I wonder if the market structure won’t become more like that for sperm.
Be that as it may, I think many people think women are selling their eggs and certainly it seems like someone is making money (if not the women producing the eggs then the vendor) selling them in the end. But there are important reasons why we might want to say the woman is being paid for time and trouble. For one thing, that means all women should be paid the same amount–whether viable eggs result or not. Whether they are from a rare ethnicity or not.
The question of what we can pay for and how we pay for it is a tough one. We cannot get away from the reality of supply and demand, no matter what we say women are being paid for. Surely it is true that if you offer more money, more women will agree to provide eggs. And that’s true whether you say the money is for their time/trouble or for the eggs themselves.
Which brings me to the part about donor traits–a subject which really does warrant a totally separate discussion. Imagine someone wants eggs from a Jewish woman. They might want these because according to some rabbis, Judaism is genetic and determined maternally, so only a child from Jewish eggs (if eggs can be Jewish) will produce a Jewish child. Let’s imagine, though, that Jewish women are underrepresented in the pool of women currently providing eggs. (I have no idea if this is true.) Someone wanting a Jewish woman to step forward might decide to offer a bonus–on the basic theory that there are some women who wouldn’t provide eggs at price X but might provide eggs at price 2X. (This seems like it must be true.)
That’s exactly the behavior that the ASRM wants to discourage. That’s one of the areas in which people aren’t playing by the rules. But you can see why it happens, can’t you? And once you’ve entered into the world of the marketplace–which you have with the whole idea of having women paid to provide eggs–what’s wrong with it? It’s not a reflection of a general preference for Jewish eggs. (In this way it is perhaps unlike a premium paid for blonds or tall women or something like that.) It’s the reflection of a shortage that has an impact on a small number of people.
It’s easy for me to agree that the problems with counselling and the like are serious and must be addressed, but it seems to me that the issues around compensation are a bit more difficult to sort through.