In the 42 years since its invention, over eight million babies have been born from in vitro fertilization (IVF), as well as other advanced fertility treatments. Today, the CDC estimates that just under two percent of babies born every year in the United States are conceived thanks to assisted reproductive technology (ART). While the majority of people who conceive with IVF use their own eggs, in 2016, donor eggs were used in 24,300 ART cycles in the United States — a 31% increase from 2011. (More recent data is not available.)
As the New York Times explains, while the CDC collects information on the number of rounds of in vitro fertilizations completed each year, no one tracks those who donate their eggs: “Once donors walk out the door, they are essentially lost to medical history.” The donation process involves taking a series of fertility drug injections to stimulate the ovaries in order to produce many eggs at one time, instead of the single egg most people typically release each cycle. After the eggs are produced, they’re removed through a minor surgical procedure.
Others have raised ethical concerns: donors are typically paid $5,000 to $10,000. But those with “desirable traits” can make considerably more — which means that people are paid more if they’re of a certain race or ethnic background, fit certain beauty ideals, or went to Ivy League universities. “A poor Black woman or a poor Hispanic woman doesn’t suffer less than someone who is Asian or Jewish or a Stanford graduate,” bioethicist Laurie Zoloth told the Los Angeles Times in 2012. “The fact that we think of these gametes as having particular worth depending on race and class is really one of the starkest examples of how capitalism has entered the market in human parts.”
Others say that legal adults can make their own medical decisions even if they’re young, and point to the benefits of egg donation — the money, yes, but also a sense of fulfillment that comes from helping potential parents have a much-wanted child. While some donors say they want more transparency about potential health risks, one 2008 study found that two-thirds of egg donors were happy with their experience two years later.
We talked to three women who donated their eggs: two anonymously, and one to close friends.