(1) Dear Alice,

I have seen multiple advertisements for egg donation in my school's newspaper. I could sell my eggs for $25,000 or more! That's a year of tuition! There's got to be a catch. When I do some research to find out the procedure and the risks, I only seem to find oocyte donation "businesses" — not the most straight forward sources on the subject. Alice, I trust you! Can you tell me... what have I got to lose?

—Laying Golden Eggs


I see lots of ads in the paper here at Columbia about egg donors wanted. I think that I would like to donate an egg, but I can't find any information on the net about donating — only about receiving a donation. Can you tell me what the process is like, how long it takes, and whether there are side effects or permanent long-term effects? Or point me towards some other resource.

Thanks, Alice!

Dear Laying Golden Eggs and Reader #2,

It's common to find egg donation ads listed in college newspapers and some magazines. Through these ads, infertile women/couples or egg donation centers advertise for healthy, young women who are willing to have their eggs cultivated and harvested. Women who answer the ads donate eggs for financial compensation, to help infertile women/couples have a child, or both.

Egg donation or recognized assisted reproduction programs are available worldwide. Each program has its own criteria for donor selection, testing and age requirements (usually under 35, as the risk of birth defects is lower), policies, and release forms. Many programs have anonymous donation, where the donor does not know who receives her eggs and the recipient does not know who has donated them. Sometimes couples choose an open donation, where the egg donor meets the potential "birth mother"/parents. If a male is involved in the couple his sperm, or sperm from a chosen donor, is used to fertilize the donor's egg, and then have it implanted in the recipient's uterus.

Potential egg donors learn about a program's specific requirements before they begin the process. It's helpful for potential donors to consider how this process could possibly affect them, physically and emotionally. In general, donors experience a range of reactions and responses before, during, and after the donation process. Potential egg donors need information and support. It's useful to talk with other women who have been egg donors, as well as perhaps recipients, before choosing to donate your eggs.

From start to finish, the egg donation process can last up to a few months, depending on the program. Generally, the process begins with a comprehensive questionnaire asking the donor about her medical history, physical attributes, and personal characteristics. This helps identify and match perspective candidates with the egg recipient(s). Donors then have a complete physical exam, including blood, genetic, and psychological testing. After a donor is approved for egg donation, documents, including a medical release form to state that the donor gives up rights to the donated eggs once they are harvested, are given to the donor to sign.

No matter how factually informed and emotionally prepared potential egg donors are, the process itself is complicated, and can be frightening, uncomfortable, and even painful. Unlike sperm donation, which is relatively quick and easy, egg donation requires medications and an invasive procedure to retrieve the eggs. Once a woman has been selected as a donor, she is taught how to give herself daily injections of medications and fertility drugs (FSH and LH) for 3 to 5 weeks. The fertility drugs stimulate multiple eggs to develop, and their maturation is monitored by ultrasound examinations. A drug (such as Lupron) that temporarily prevents the ovaries from releasing a single egg each month (which is a typical menstrual cycle) is also administered by daily injection. Women resume menstrual activity shortly after stopping these injections.

Once the eggs are ready to be harvested, a fertility specialist identifies the eggs to be retrieved. A needle is passed through the top wall of the vagina and is inserted into the ovary to remove an egg. This process is repeated for each egg. This procedure usually takes 30 to 60 minutes total. After about 20 minutes of recovery, the donor can go home. Usually, donors are limited to donating up to ten eggs at one time, to keep the gene pool small, decreasing the chances that donor offspring will meet in the future. If the donor egg procedure is done correctly, it doesn't interfere with a donor's fertility. Once retrieved, the eggs may undergo testing; if they're okay, they are fertilized (with sperm) and grown in the lab for 2 to 3 days in a Petri dish before being inserted into the recipient's uterus.

Women who donate eggs usually schedule a day off from school or work for the egg retrieval process. They also need to rest after the procedure and recover from the intravenous sedation effects. The donor may or may not feel discomfort for a couple of days afterwards, and/or whatever feelings may accompany her experience — relief, anxiety, pride, satisfaction.

Potential risks for women egg donors include:

  • bruising or hemorrhaging of the ovary from the needle used to retrieve the eggs
  • ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome — nowadays a very rare occurrence, this is a series of negative side effects experienced over a two-week period following the release of a large number of eggs. This condition is caused by high hormone levels resulting from hyperstimulated and enlarged ovaries due to fertility drugs, particularly FSH, used for egg growth.
  • long-term consequences that are not fully known

Egg donation is one way to help infertile women/couples to start a family. For women who are thinking about being egg donors, it's smart to look into several programs to learn about the more specific procedures, criteria, and support for the donor and the birth mother. The benefits can be rewarding, both financially and emotionally, for donors who are healthy and willing to give their time to the process.


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