CNN Video on Egg Donation: What About the Doctors & Recipients?

Posted On December 23rd, 2008

CNN video: “Egg Donors on the Rise” – click the “Play” button below to watch:

The CNN segment on egg donation (“Egg Donors on the Rise”) was pretty fair, but it left some large components out of the story:

  • The Doctors.
    • The reporter did not speak to any fertility doctors who perform these medical procedures to get their opinion on the alleged surge in egg donation. This may be because doctors are probably not seeing any actual increase. As we’ve said many times on this blog, any woman can apply to be an egg donor, but the majority will never actually donate because they are not qualified, or cannot find an egg donor recipient to be matched with. Fertility treatments are expensive, and the economy may affect patients’ ability to pay for them just as much as it motivates women to donate.
    • Doctors could also speak to the efficacy of egg donation (about 50% of embryos transfers result in a live birth), as well as the risks, which I believe were overstated in the piece. The chance of hyperstimulation is about 1%, and since it is always treated, it is not severe.
  • The Donor Egg Recipients.
    • Infertility is why egg donation exists in the first place. Maybe it would have been hard to find a family willing to admit on national TV that they used an egg donor, but they could have acknowledged the disease of infertility (I was able to, briefly). It affects millions of people.

I was also surprised to see Debora Spar (an economist who is now president of Barnard College) express such a negative view of compensated egg donation. It seems at odds with the attitudes expressed in her book, The Baby Business, which describes the need for political debate and regulation. She is extremely knowledgeable, but her five-second sound bite left a bad taste in my mouth. Fertility treatments are indeed highly regulated by the FDA and professional organizations (the ASRM, for example), yet analogies to the “wild west” persist.

Nothing in the story was new, but the background of the bad economy makes the headline “Women Sell Their Eggs for Money!” all the more sensational. Commercial egg donation has been around for at least fifteen years. If it weren’t for the compensation, it would be difficult to get donor eggs for infertile couples. So egg donors are paid, according to ASRM regulations. In the United States, it’s legal and safe. As usual, most journalism is not particularly interested in the reality of egg donation and surrogacy, which is indeed fascinating but too complicated for a three-minute story.

I would recommend Liza Mundy’s Everything Conceivable (Knopf, 2007) for a multifaceted, intelligent, and compassionate journalistic treatment of the subject.  (See also Randi Kaye’s “Eggonomics” entry on the CNN site.)

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