Egg donor lawsuit could rattle fertility industry

A class-action lawsuit in California could rattle the fertility industry. Two donors claim fertility clinics conspired to limit their compensation to $10,000, an allegation CBS News legal expert Rikki Klieman said on one hand speaks to unlawful price-fixing, but on the other, raises ethical concerns.

"If you just read the paperwork and nothing else, it doesn't mean they win, but the paperwork is a pretty good complaint by the law of antitrust," Klieman said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."

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But ethicists, Klieman said, are not keen on the idea of selling body parts.

"[They] don't like the idea that hospitals and fertility clinics might become auction houses to have body parts sold to the highest bidder. And that's what we call public policy. Courts and legislatures can decide public policy," Klieman said.

Lindsay Kamakahi and Justine Levy sued The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) in 2011 for violating Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The case is moving forward on the basis that, according to Klieman, fertility clinics represented by SART and ASRM "conspired or combined to restrain trade."

In a 2007 report, the ASRM ethics board created financial compensation guidelines for oocyte donors.

"Although there is no consensus on the precise payment that oocyte donors should receive, at this time sums of $5,000 or more require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate," the report states.

The ethics committee also wrote that payment should not hinge on factors including the donors' "ethnic or other personal characteristics."

In 2011, San Francisco affiliate KPIX reported on the increasing demand for eggs from Asian donors. Demand severely outweighed supply at that time, putting one woman Linh, then 21 years old, in an opportune position.

Linh had a 3.6 grade point average at Berkeley College and was dubbed by interested, infertile parents as pretty and tall. Linh said she had "designer genes."

Jackie Gorton, an attorney specializing in ovum ownership services, told KPIX she has had clients willing to pay $40,000 for the "perfect egg."

"The ethical issue is, simply, about are we breeding for brains and beauty? That offends people dramatically," Klieman said.

Nevertheless, according to Klieman, the free market economy argument in this case is strong.

"We live in a capitalist society. If we have a product, we should be able to sell it to the highest bidder," Klieman said.