Click here for Conceiving Through Egg Donation (4 of 10): Finding an Egg Donor.
Finding Your Egg Donor through a Private Agency
There are a number of companies, unaffiliated with any particular medical facility, which serve as egg donor brokers. Finding a donor through an egg donation agency offers a number of advantages which give you more control over the selection process. You will be able to review hundreds of egg donor profiles from candidates all over the country, each with much more detailed information than your clinic would offer, including photographs. Any eggs retrieved would be all yours; no shared cycles. You can choose to work strictly anonymously or not.
Most egg donation agencies have password-protected data bases on their Web sites, available to clients to view after they register. Some require a fee to view the data base. Excellent donors may be found this way, but there are a number of things you should keep in mind when looking at agencies (and chances are you will be looking at many).
Firstly, unlike your clinic, egg donation agencies perform no medical tests. They “pre-screen” candidates. This includes assembling information gathered through written applications and supporting materials such as driver’s licenses, photographs, and school transcripts. Your clinic will be responsible for medically screening the donor only after you have made your selection.
Many who manage these agencies have no medical or even legal training at all. Anyone can do it. Take a look at the backgrounds of the founders and staffs of every agency you consider, just to get a sense of who you are working with. This information should be accessible on the agency’s Web site.
There are no standards or licenses required to establish an egg donor agency. Since these agencies perform no medical tests, they require no FDA registration, although this may change in a few years as these agencies grow in number. (Some agencies claim FDA registrations, but these will be inactive.) The New York State Department of Health offers a license, but it is not mandatory. There are industry affiliations that may endorse, to some extent, a program’s legitimacy. An agency may claim to be a member of infertility support organizations such as RESOLVE (The National Infertility Association) or the AFA (American Fertility Association). However, agencies pay membership dues to join these groups without any thorough scrutiny of their practices.
Look to see if the company is a member of The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and/or its adjunct, the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART). By joining these affiliations, a company pledges to abide by these organizations’ ethical standards. The most important for our purposes is the ASRM guideline for donor compensation (first published in 2000 and restated in 2007). The ASRM maintains that remuneration for the time, inconvenience, and discomfort of egg donation (as opposed to the oocytes themselves) is ethical and justified, and should be determined irrespective of the quality, number, or intended use of the oocytes. Any amount above $5,000 requires justification, and any amount beyond $10,000 is inappropriate. The purpose of this limit is to prevent coercively high fees that could obscure the risks, among other ethical concerns.
If a company claims to be an ASRM or SART member, but offers its donors compensation over $10,000 (and/or elaborate gifts or financial incentives beyond a fee of $10,000), it is operating unethically, but not unlawfully. The ASRM guidelines are just that: recommendations, not laws. Most IVF clinics are ASRM /SART members, and pledge not only to abide industry guidelines but only to work with companies that do the same. Clinics examine the ethics of these egg donation agencies with various levels of scrutiny. For this reason, it is important to check with your clinic about its policy regarding outside agencies, and to see if they would be willing to work with any one you choose. Some clinics are real sticklers; others are more relaxed in their policies.
If you find an egg donor you absolutely love who asks a fee of $15,000, no law prohibits you from paying that amount, but be aware that it will require some ethical breaches by all parties involved (however arbitrary these guidelines seem to be). In the end it is the donor, not the agency, that is most important to you. Egg donors generally do not sign contracts with agencies, and may register with more than one in an effort to be matched as soon as possible. Depending on how the agency works, either the agency or the donor sets the fee. It may be negotiable.
You should also examine the agency’s own fee structure, which should be described on its site. Apart from donor compensation, most charge about $3-6,000 for their services, which may include some more advanced level of screening by a psychologist, but not typically. Remember this is on top of not only the donor fee, but legal fees (about $1,300) and medical fees, set by your own clinic. Some require the full fee up front, and some require the fee in stages. Make sure you are clear on the agency’s refund policy, and that you know exactly what happens to your money if your egg donor does not pass her medical screening or backs out at any point. It is my program’s policy to return our fee if the donor does not start her screening at all after being matched (which does happen on rare unfortunate occasions). If she goes through with the screening but does not pass, our fee is non-refundable, but we permit the client six months to select a new egg donor from NAFG’s program at no extra charge. The donor fee is held in escrow once medications begin, but it is returned in full if the retrieval does not take place.
Since there are separate stages and many possible outcomes along the way in this arrangement, you will find many variables in agency policies. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with an agency’s policies before you start searching their data base. If you become very interested in a particular egg donor, you may want to request a sample service agreement ahead of time so you can be aware of the terms in full. Some terms may be negotiable; you’ll never know until you ask.
If registering with more than one agency, keep track of their names and access codes, especially if initial fees are required. When you pay a fee to view a data base, your access may expire after a certain number of days. Be wary of “teaser” profiles, incomplete descriptions of donors available free of charge which require credit card payment in order to view in full. You could spend $50 just to find out the donor is “unavailable.” There are many agencies which require no registration fee at all. They just want to know that you are working with a legitimate IVF clinic, and they are happy to help you. This is the Northeast Assisted Fertility Group’s policy.