Wanted: The perfect egg donor

Alongside “for rent” and “help wanted,” college classifieds make room for a different kind of ad: “egg donors wanted.”

In campus newspapers across the country, egg donor agencies and infertile people seek out the best and brightest females with announcements that resemble singles personal ads. Most specify physical characteristics such as height, build and eye color. Some prod even deeper by requesting specific ancestry, high SAT scores and an Ivy League education.

One ad, featured in the Harvard Crimson and the Columbia Spectator, offered $100,000 for an attractive, intelligent Indian donor between the ages of 18 and 27. This is 10 times the amount recommended by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, an advocacy and educational non-profit organization, and would be classified as “beyond what is appropriate” by their 2000 ethics report.

Offering an exorbitant amount of money for eggs may be considered a form of “positive eugenics” because it encourages the conception of children with traits deemed socially desirable, according to the medical society’s report.

A classified ad in last week’s Hatchet asked for a donor of the following description: “Healthy woman (age 21-30), of Irish/Northern European descent, medium athletic build, fair complexion with freckles, blue eyes, light to brown wavy hair, easy smile and upbeat personality.”

Medically speaking, there is no guarantee that a blue-eyed, well-educated donor’s egg will produce a child of identical traits. An “easy smile” might not be genetic either.

“People have their own beliefs about what is genetic, but you never know what you’re going to get – even with high SAT scores,” said Denise Hunt, president of Fertility Alternatives, Inc., a California-based donor and surrogacy agency.

But for some egg donor agencies, sometimes referred to as “egg brokers,” infertile women are just selecting donors they can relate to.

“My philosophy has always been this: What would be important to me if I had to replace myself?” Darlene M. Pinkerton, executive director of A Perfect Match, a surrogacy and ovum donation center, wrote in an e-mail.

Many of the women seeking donors are older professionals with graduate degrees who want a well-educated donor, added Pinkerton, whose agency is known for screening donors for intelligence.

College students are also good candidates for donation given their good egg quality and high responsiveness to fertility drugs, said Frankie Ruszczyk, new patient coordinator at the San Diego Fertility Center.

High demand for egg donors – particularly Jewish, Asian and East Indian women – is contributing to rising compensation rates. However, not everyone who applies to be a donor is selected. A Perfect Match, for example, only accepts 8 to 10 percent of respondents to its ads – making it more selective than most Ivy League schools.

Selected donors, who have passed an extensive pre-screening process and undergone psychological evaluation, are placed in an agency’s database and await selection by a couple. If chosen, they begin receiving hormone injections for two to four weeks, in order to stimulate egg production. Eggs are then retrieved from the donor in an hour-long procedure using a needle guided by an ultrasound machine.

The procedure is relatively painless, although the experience varies from woman to woman, said Hunt, a six-time donor. “Typically you just take a few Tylenol after,” she added.

Most agencies pay their donors partial compensation after the first hormone injection and in full after the egg retrieval. Donors are paid regardless of whether their eggs are fertilized or a child is conceived.

“Most donors will say that they only consider themselves as donating genetic material. They are not mothers in any sense of the word because their donation only gives the possibility that a child may be created,” Pinkerton said.

In all, egg donors spend about 56 hours between screenings, counseling and medical procedures, according to the medical society’s report. Sperm donation, on the other hand, takes only about one hour, which explains why the average donor compensation averages $60 to $75 per sperm specimen, while egg donors make thousands.

“While most say this will help them with their student loans, it is rarely the sole reason for donating,” Pinkerton said. “I see the majority of donors really wanting to help an infertile woman become a mother.”

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