The Risks (and Benefits) of Donating Your Eggs

Smart? Good genes? Need Money? You've probably seen the advertisements in campus magazines, and fliers nailed to trees, offering thousands of dollars to women who are willing to donate their eggs.

But is it worth doing? For example, is egg donation painful? What are the long term effects? And just how much money can you expect to make? Find out below.

Top image via Andrew Huff on Flickr.

Donors supply eggs for fertilization, providing a great benefit to those who are unable to start a family. In return for their time and sacrifice, donors — typically college and graduate students — often receive large sums of money. Eggs (called oocytes in scientific jargon) are also donated for research purposes, including stem cell research.

The Risks (and Benefits) of Donating Your Eggs


How long does the process take?
The extraction of eggs from a donor only takes 20-30 minutes, but a large amount of time is invested prior to harvesting.

Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is administered to the donor in the weeks prior to the procedure, along with human chorionic gonadotropin 36 hours before harvesting to yield more oocytes. These hormone injections serve to maximize the number of eggs available for retrieval.

The harvesting procedure is rather short – at that point, the most time-consuming processes are over. A physician or surgeon inserts an ultrasound probe with suction capabilities into the vagina and removes the fluid around the follicles in the hope of attaining an egg from each follicle. In additional to a medical evaluation and hormone treatments, psychological evaluations are conducted in an attempt to predict the donor's response post-donation.

The Risks (and Benefits) of Donating Your Eggs


Is donation painful? And how many eggs are removed?

The procedure itself is typically not painful, but usually requires an additional day or two in the hospital afterwards. Expect some cramping and discomfort. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome is also a possibility due to the fertility medications given to cause multiple eggs to mature – without these medications, only a single egg would be available for harvest. one in 10 women who undergo a donation process experience ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, leading to short-term weight gain, fluid build up, and severe abdominal pain.

The amount of oocytes taken per harvesting session vary to an astonishing degree. Numbers between eight to 66 are reported, with the average harvest yielding 10-15 eggs.

The Risks (and Benefits) of Donating Your Eggs

How much does it pay?

Due to the time and side effects that come with female oocyte donation, the donors are often compensated. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine guidelines state:

Total payments to donors in excess of $5,000 require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate. Donors will not be paid over $10,000 under any circumstance.

Flier image via Daithifortytwo on Flickr.

The amount paid to the donor can vary, as there is no punitive aspect to the ASRM's declaration nor does the United States regulate compensation. Compensation is typically in the $4,000 range within the United States, but travel and additional expenses are often covered for the donor.

Advertisements in the Daily Princetonian offered that female students of the Ivy League school up to $35,000 to undergo an oocyte donation process. Ivy League students are not the only ones being paid prolific sums, with one graduate of the University of Phoenix paid up to $5,000 to 15,000 for each of five donations made in three calendar years.The large lump sum payments are subject to taxation (via a 1099-Misc), with a large amount of women using the money to pay off student loans or other outstanding debts.

Compensation in the UK and Europe is considerably less, with the UK capping compensation at £250 ($400) and Spain setting a limit at £765 ($1200).

Donors of oocytes directed for research causes are also compensated. The State of New York stated that it would pay for oocytes donated for research use, but a monetary value is not publicized. One would assume that research options would pay substantially less than a competitive market.

How are the eggs used?

The harvested eggs are fertilized, and fertilized eggs passed over by parents with a genetic connection are offered up to single people or couples in need of a fertilized egg, regardless of genetic connection. If the fertilized egg continues to go unused, it will be frozen for future use. After donation, the donor has no real say in how the eggs are handled, with many frozen eggs eventually discarded or used for research.

Regulations are in place to safeguard the use of eggs, with the UK only allowing ten different families to use eggs. US agencies also limit to the number of offspring that can be successfully birthed from a single donor, as proliferation of her genetic material could create a (however slight) statistical chance of relatives meeting and breeding.

Long term effects

Assisted Reproductive Technology is barely 25 years old, with the earliest donors still premenopausal. Monetary compensation for donation is banned in Canada and France, due to the absence of knowledge about the long term effects to the donor. Accelerated cancer proliferation is suggested in rare cases due to the increase in hormone levels, but this is far from an established correlation. Premature menopause and infertility are often linked to egg donors, but we will not know if a correlation is present until decades pass and more data is collected.

The only confirmed positive or negative effects of egg donation are psychological ones, with most women benefiting from the joy of helping a couple in need.

One would infer that multiple rounds of hormone treatment could yield adverse effects in the future, but we honestly don't know at the moment, and will not know the extremest possible physical effects for several decades. Through separate data looking at the rate of cancer in women taking ovulation stimulation drugs between 1965 and 1988, women taking the drugs experienced a two fold increase in uterine cancer.

A difficult process

Regardless of motivation on the part of the donor, egg donation is a long and difficult process, but one that allows you to help people in need, pass on a part of your genetic information, and benefit monetarily. The risks are difficult to discern for the time being, but one thing is painfully obvious - it's certainly easier for a biological male to donate genetic information than a biological female.

Images courtesy of CC sources and Stanford University. Sources linked within the article.