With the media buzzing about the fruit of Dr Rashbrook’s old age (with the help of a Russian donor), recent articles are also claiming that an international market in human eggs exists which treats women like battery hens.
The UK’s Observer conducted a special investigation in the Ukraine and Cyprus and found that Eastern European women are selling their ova to British would-be mothers to escape from desperate poverty. Despite strict medical and administrative guidelines set down by the UK, it is nearly impossible for authorities to oversee what happens in other countries. In the Ukraine, the Observer claimed, women are being paid on a sliding scale of fees for their eggs and seldom receive any psychological counselling. Sometimes they accept larger injections of fertility hormones in the hope of producing more eggs — a potentially life-threatening procedure. One woman said that she knew another who had donated nearly 20 times. The average price for eggs in Kiev appears to be about US$300.
In Cyprus, IVF clinics with ties to the UK and the US rely upon women from the former Soviet Union — both residents and visitors. One woman estimated that one in four immigrant women in their 20s had donated eggs. A nurse told the Observer that some women viewed egg donation as their main source of income and donated five times a year. Slavic women are attractive because their features are compatible with British women’s.
The head of the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Suzi Leather, commented: "The market in baby making is now global and these problems have to be tackled internationally." She described it as a "profoundly exploitative and unethical trade."
A similar trade exists in the US, although American eggs command higher prices. In 1984 egg donors were typically paid $250. Now university newspapers regularly run advertisements offering as much as $35,000 for a perfect donor — usually Caucasian, blonde or brunette, with high academic results. However, most donors get far less — between $2,000 and $8,000. "It’s a bait and switch approach used by a lot of lawyers and brokers," says Dr Mark V. Sauer, of Columbia University. "It solicits huge responses and you might get one thousand inquiries. When donors don’t match the exact criteria advertised, they’re then offered a lower amount. To me it seems really sleazy."
The author of the book "Confessions of a Serial Egg Donor", Julia Derek, paid her way through college by donating her eggs 12 times. She says that "It’s really easy to get hooked. For a student it’s a ridiculous amount of money." Egg brokers claim that donors are simply being compensated for the risk, discomfort and inconvenience. But Ms Derek denies this. "It’s being an egg seller. It’s nothing else than that." In an interview with the student magazine Current, she urges caution for cash-strapped co-eds. "I think it’s better to get a job."
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