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As Economy Falls, Egg Donations Rise

In this staggering economy, a growing number of young women are choosing a controversial and perhaps risky way to make money: donating their eggs to fertility clinics, in exchange for big bucks.

That's resulting in a number of ethical questions, not to mention concerns about their safety.

On The Early Show Saturday Edition, Nicole (who didn't want her last name used) explained why she's decided to go that route.

The 23-year old, unemployed actress stands to get $10,000 if she does it.

She told co-anchor Erica Hill that donating eggs "started becoming a serious decision for me when the fall of the economy started happening, and essentially me being a woman in this economy it hit me really, really hard. I have school debts and credit cards, and even living in New York, it's one of the most expensive places to live.

"So, when money started dwindling, I started doing a little bit of research on what I cold be doing to pick myself back up. I talked about it with one of my girlfriends, a good friend of mine, who had done it six times already, the maximum amount of times you can do it in terms of donating your eggs, and she had nothing but great things to say about it, just the money that you earn and that it just was not invasive and it was great. It was fine."

Kathy Benardo, co-founder of the Northeast Assisted Fertility Group, the egg donation facility Nicole is using, observed that, "There's definitely an increase in the number of people interested in donation, but most people aren't qualified. Of course the economy has spurred people to be interested, but also it's an expensive undertaking for the recipients, and keep in mind this is a treatment for infertility; it's not just about making money for women."

(Left: Nicole, a 23-year-old out-of-work actress, plans to donate eggs and will make $10,000 if she does.)

Bernardo noted that donors have to be "twenty-one to thirty, very educated, very healthy, very attractive, good medical and family history. I toss out about 90 percent of the applications I receive."

But Dr. Emaunel, of the National Institutes of Health, pointed to "the ethical concern about doing something to a woman not for her benefit, and especially just in trade for money. And then ... there's the medical concern.

"The primary concern is what's called Ovarian Hyper-stimulation Syndrome, and that's when fluid leaks out of the vessels. It causes pain, bloating, nausea, and occasionally it can be severe, causing failure of the kidneys and failure of the liver. There've even been reported deaths. A study in the Netherlands showed between six and ten out of 100,000 women had actually died.

"The real unfortunate fact is we don't have a lot of great data and studies of the long-term effects," Dr. Emanuel said. "What if you do it six times?"

Would he advise a woman to do it?

"You have to look at the risk, and there's really no health benefit to the women, and that's, I think, the real concern."

Bernardo countered that, "Hyper-ovarian Stimulation Syndrome occurs in one percent, and I don't think it's necessarily for egg donors exclusively, but for all women who undergo IVF (in-vitro fertilization). And women who undergo IVF using their own eggs could do it ten times and fail before they get to egg donation. So, there's a lot of IVF going on."

Bernardo said that egg donors are treated "just like regular patients. They're not treated like lab rats. They are treated like patients, and they're given insurance and the very best medical care, and they're really only on the (egg production) stimulating drugs eight to 12 days. They're given a lot of medical screenings, so they're in very good health."

Nicole acknowledged critics who say egg donation could be seen as women with money taking advantage of those without. "Yes," she said, "the monetary benefit is exceptionally nice, but the gift of giving life to somebody else who is not able to do that and to have that experience is something that I take in very, very personally.

"In researching everything I did, I spoke to my gynecologist and other gynecologists about it, and of course, there's always risk with doing this kind of procedure - there's risks with doing a lot of different procedures - but in the long-term, it's something, you know, I may be biologically connected to a child out in the world, but giving the gift of life, to someone who wants to be a mother and a father is so much more rewarding in terms of that."

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