Fertility clinics are increasingly targeting college students for egg and sperm donations through advertisements in college newspapers – a trend some medical professionals say could be exploitating students.
Potential health risks aside, students may find the financial incentives to donate often are too enticing to ignore. Some fertility clinics offer donors as much as $3,000, said Kyla Brownhill, representative of the Virginia-based Fertility and Reproductive Health Center.
“We like to target young women in the age range of 21 to 32 years of age,” Brownhill said. “College newspapers are our primary source.”
“I personally feel it’s not a good idea to advertise for donors in college newspapers because there are risks, especially for females, since the process is more difficult,” said Isabel Goldenberg, director of GW Student Health Services. “Students who (donate) may be facing financial burdens. It may look like a way of solving a problem but it has health risks.”
Fertility specialists say recruiting students as potential donors can be problematic.
“We get a lot of men who are law and medical students looking to pay off their loans,” said Michael Buuk, lab supervisor at a Fairfax, Va., Cyrobank.
But the potential cash compensation can have its disadvantages as well.
“There is a possibility of exploiting young women who may have credit card debts and be inclined to donate for the money,” said Lydia Karoum, GW nurse clinician in the division of reproductive endocrinology and fertility. “These ladies may not have the maturity or understand the risk. They may later regret doing it.”
Financial compensation motivates some donors, but fertility clinic representatives say money is not the only reason people donate eggs and sperm.
“Most of the people who donate do it to help someone because they may have seen the struggle that another infertile couple may have had,” Buuk said. The procedure can produce side effects. Lupron, a medication used during the egg extraction process, can cause short-term menopause, which could lead to hot flashes and a lower than normal blood-estrogen level. Lupron also suppresses the pituitary gland, which stimulates the ovaries. In some cases, this overstimulation can lead to Ovarian Hyper Stimulation (OHS), Karoum said.
“We are intentionally over-stimulating the ovary to get more than one egg,” Karoum said. “The drugs that are used are very powerful because they work directly on the ovaries.”
Additional side effects include headache, fainting and gastrointestinal problems, she said.
Also, egg donation is a lengthy process. Donors are interviewed by phone, and visit a staff-licensed counselor to discuss physical and emotional implications. Fertility clinics screen the donors, and a liaison works with the staff and donor to coordinate the process.
“Egg donors undergo the same process as a woman undergoing in-vitro fertilization,” Karoum said. “They take the same medication, the same doses, for the same amount of time, daily blood tests and pelvic ultrasounds.”
Extracting male donations is also a long process. Donors must complete a 15-page history and a phone interview. Before semen is extracted, clinics screen semen to determine if the sperm will survive.
Male donors who pass the screening must undergo a physical exam and blood work before the six-month weekly sperm donation begins. Three months of blood tests are conducted after the donation. Only three percent of the donor applicants are accepted by the Fairfax Cyrobank, according to its records.
Unlike the process with male donors, women undergo a psychological evaluation before donating eggs. They discuss their reasons for donating before they begin the process.
“We ask why (women) want to do this and it has to be more than just the compensation,” Brownhill said.
But Goldenberg said students should be informed before they make a decision to donate to a clinic.
“Make sure the clinic you are going to is scientific,” she said. “Take your parents, notify your family doctor and know what your getting into.”