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Eggs From Young Asian Women In High Demand

BERKELEY (CBS 5) -- It's the hot new item in the fertility industry. More and more infertile Asian couples want eggs, but few young Asian women sign up to donate.

So how much are couples willing to pay? It turns out; the sky's the limit for the right egg.

She's barely 21 and Linh is in demand. "Basically they said, they chose me because they thought I was pretty, tall and a Berkeley graduate," she said.

She has a 3.6 grade point average, she's young, and she's Asian, the ethnicity in demand.  She is also an egg donor. Two couples are expecting babies right now partly because of her.

Her parents did not know she's an egg donor. It's somewhat of a cultural taboo. "You're giving up a part of yourself to another person that you pretty much don't know to create a child.  I think the whole biological parental aspect of it would be very upsetting to most Asian parents," she said.

Asian egg donors are rare. But having that perfect baby is every parent's dream, a dream that has spawned an expensive industry. Hundreds of egg donor databases are offered on the internet, with the demand for certain ethnicities widely advertised.

Her eggs were gold to the infertile couples. She admits she is kind of like a commodity. "Designer genes I call it," she said.

They are designer genes that can command unbelievable fees in the egg donation market, especially when the fertile hunting grounds include elite schools such as Stanford University. The school paper regularly runs ads for Asian eggs.

"They're willing to pay $20,000 for a donor with characteristics that they're looking for," said Jackie Gorton, a nurse and attorney who works as a broker in the industry. She posted the $20,000 ad in the school paper this fall, saying she bought it for her clients.

Gorton has a reputation for getting hard-to-find egg donors. She discourages premium fees because no one could ever meet the criteria to be perfect. But sometimes desperation has a price. Gorton said she had one intended parent who asked her to place an ad and offer $40,000 but that ad received no takers.

And yet some services have offered as much as $100,000 for the perfect egg. It's something that concerns Stanford Bioethics Professor David Magnus.

"What we have is the beginnings of the specter of eugenics," Magnus said, the makings of a super-race and a slippery slope. "What we have is an actual egg selling, not egg donation."

Magnus said the problem is that the industry is not regulated. "There are stricter regulations for circus animals than for reproductive services," he said.

But Dr. Marcelle Cedars, who heads up UCSF's fertility clinic, said that is not the case. "There are standards set by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine," she said.

Cedars and many other fertility doctors say voluntary guidelines are enough. They call for a standard fee for donor services that ranges from $7,500 to $10,000 per cycle.

"This is really is not to pay someone for their eggs or to pay someone for a special trait. This is really to compensate them for their time and effort," said Cedars.

The time and effort includes a grueling series of shots, doctors' visits and egg extraction surgery. But that standard has resulted in a "price fixing" lawsuit in California, filed by donors who feel they are not getting paid enough.

Gorton isn't part of the lawsuit, but agrees with the plaintiffs. She believes there should not be limits to how much donors can be compensated. As she points out, doctors don't have limits.

"There's no restrictions on what they can bring in. But then there's this emphasis on the donor. Well she should only be making this much," Gorton said.

Cedars finds that ironic. "We tried to do it to protect women from being taken advantage of and doing something they might not otherwise do and this is what happens: We are being accused of price fixing," she said.

Linh is satisfied with the $15,000 she made for two donations. They helped pay for her college expenses and another cycle will fund post graduate art courses. She said she donated her eggs to help two couples who couldn't have children on their own.

"I don't really plan on having children of my own. But hey, I just passed on my genes! I have fulfilled my evolutionary quota!" she said.

Other countries such as Great Britain, Canada and Australia don't allow payment for donor eggs. So couples from these countries come to the U.S. to find them.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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