What Drives Egg Donors
A survey delves into women's motivations for providing eggs to couples in need
For Noelle Tryby, choosing to donate her eggs to those in need was a no-brainer. Tryby was paid $8,000 for her donation to an infertile couple, but the 25-year-old California woman said she didn’t do it for the money.
“It makes you feel really good. You’re helping a family (realize) their life dream to have kids,” she said.
Now the results of a European study show what many egg donors like Tryby already know: that the motivation largely driving donors is the joy of helping others.
Researchers from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology found that of 1,423 egg donors surveyed at 60 clinics across Europe, 46 percent were motivated by “pure altruism” and another 32 percent cited a combination of altruism and financial compensation as their reason for donating. Ten percent said they cared only about financial compensation while in a minority of cases, women said they chose to donate because of the chance to share eggs—keep some of their harvested eggs to use for themselves and donate the rest.
Belgium, Finland and France (which bars donors from receiving payments) had the highest rates of pure altruism, while financial compensation was the dominant motivation in Russia, Ukraine and Greece
The differences among the countries’ results “can be explained by different reimbursement systems and different legal rules of the donation practice in payment and anonymity,” Professor Guido Pennings, who chaired the ESHRE task force that performed the study, said in a written statement. “In general, most European oocyte donors are motivated by the wish to help other women, but financial compensation surely helps persuade some of them to actually do it.”
Pennings said that in Russia and Ukraine in particular, “egg donation may be very attractive to unemployed or poor women.”
When donors are motivated solely by financial gain, it may pose a serious concern to couples seeking donations. Such donors may be more likely to negotiate contracts that see them paid significant sums even if medical issues—such as red flags detected in the donor’s bloodwork—stop a donation in its tracks.
In such cases, would-be parents could wind up taking a significant financial hit, explained Wendie Wilson-Miller, the president of the new Society for Ethics and Egg Donation in Surrogacy. Wilson-Miller, herself a five-time egg donor and the founder of the egg donation agency Gifted Journeys in Toluca Lake, California, said that medical expenses related to egg donation typically total $15,000. That doesn’t include the $5,000 to $10,000 usually paid to donors plus fees paid to agencies like hers.
Clients “are already paying at the doctor’s office,” Wilson-Miller said. “We don’t want to hit them additionally with a donor fee that really wasn’t earned yet.”
Wilson-Miller said that today, psychological screenings of donors—which is now standard practice in the fertility industry—help weed out those whose financial motivations could cause problems down the road.
But even altruistic donors don’t always end up being happy donors.
In a piece published in The New York Times, donor Ruth Ragan wrote how she went from an “altruistic donor to (a) worried former donor.” Ragan, who donated in the mid-1990s, wrote that she worried about the well-being of donor-conceived children and also of a “worst-case soap opera scenario” that the son she conceived years after donating will someday unknowingly fall in love with his own sibling.
Wilson-Miller said that today’s emphasis on open, instead of anonymous, egg donation can help donors rule out such concerns, though she conceded that even some modern donors may still find themselves suffering regrets later on.
Still, she added, in her experience, most donors are ultimately happy with their decisions.
“If the majority of donors were coming back to me and saying, ‘Wendie, I can’t sleep at night, I’m always worried about the children’, we’d have to make huge, significant changes in the industry, but that’s not what we’re experiencing,” she said.
“We’re people who look at it as one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
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