Inside The Business Of Egg Donation

As college students wrap up the school year, there's a new kind of recruitment under way on campuses. Fertility clinics are offering young women a hefty check for their eggs. As Elizabeth Kaledin reports, it's turning egg donations into a campus industry.

Egg donation is a growing business. Young women make several thousand dollars and couples unable to have children are given a second chance at a family. Although there's some concern that these young women are not thinking through the emotional risks, the process can also provide them with personal satisfaction.

Like many young college women, Lisa saw ads posted on campus and in the school paper and thought, "Why not?"

When asked if she had any ethical qualms, Lisa replied, "No, not at all."

Lisa has agreed to sell her eggs to infertile couples who hope to have a baby. The price: $7,000. The fertility clinic asked that CBS News not use her last name.

"You really start thinking about the recipient — who's on the other end of this. (That it's) not just a check — that there's people whose lives are changing," Lisa said.

For about three weeks, while studying for finals, Lisa and her doctor carefully tracked the growth of her eggs, which she's stimulated by injecting hormones.

About 75 percent of egg donors these days are college-aged women like Lisa. They're young, have flexible schedules — and can definitely use the extra cash. In fact, you might call egg donation from college women an "emerging market."

"It's a relatively easy way for a 20- or 21-year-old young woman to make what is really quite a lot of money for a relatively short amount of work," says Debora Spar, a professor at the Harvard Business School who has written a book about what's become a growing business.

Spar estimates that egg donation is now a $40 million-a-year industry. Nationwide today, students like Lisa get paid anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 a cycle. In rare cases where specific attributes — say blue eyes and a high IQ — are the dream, the price can go as high as $35,000.

"It's a bit of a wild west," says Spar. "There's not a lot of law. There's not a lot of regulation, and people can pretty much experiment with these technologies anyway they want as long as they can pay."

The complete lack of regulation has Spar concerned: The medical risks may be low, but the emotional risks are high.

"It isn't just a product like bottled water or potato chips," she says. "People are selling genetic material and hope."

That's where Helane Rosenburg comes in. As the fertility clinic's egg donor coordinator, she makes sure the young women know they're not giving away a baby — and that couples understand there are no guarantees.

"I think people will recruit and pay anything," she says, "but I'm not sure the child is going to turn out any smarter or more beautiful."

She says most people understand the risks — and are just thrilled that people like Lisa are willing to give them a chance at a child.

"If I was in their place and someone could help me," says Lisa, "I would just feel so grateful."
  • Amy Clark

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