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Egg donation is it a selfless, humane gift from a woman whose only dream is helping couples who can't conceive? Or is it a desperate act, committed by someone who really needs the money?

We all know about egg donors in India and the Ukraine, but you'd hope that donor eggs from the USA are not offered merely as a last-ditch attempt to get out of debt, or something similar. That is why the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has guidelines in place, right? Well, according to a new study, those guidelines are frequently ignored.  

The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) divulged that there were a whopping 15,000 (!!!) IVF cycles carried out with donor eggs in 2010, which is the most recent data available. That's more than the 11,600 in 2003. There is a growing number of egg donation agencies, and a significant number of those operates online. This is precisely where the biggest problems lies, according to the new study.

ASRM ethical guidelines say that potential egg donors have to be at least 21 years of age, unless they go through a psychiatric evualtion beforehand. Women who want to donate their eggs cannot be compensated for the eggs themselves, but can be reimbursed for the time they have given, while visiting fertility clinics for various procedures associated with egg donation. This compensation should be the same for all egg donors, and not be based on how "genetically desirable" their eggs are.

The ASRM guidelines are, unfortunately, voluntary to abide by. Amazingly, egg donation agencies who do not follow these guidelines are not breaking any laws. The study showed that 34 percent of the online egg donation agencies that were looked into did charge different rates for women with different qualities. One of the most frequent reasons a particular woman's eggs were more expensive is that she had already donated before. I've personally seen this, as well. When you blog about trying to conceive and fertility problems, nearly all the ads you get on different websites are related to those topics.

Of course, there have been ads for surrogate and donor egg agencies more than once, and when you see "get your eggs right now" or something in that spirit, you're curious and click on the ad. Financially less able people looking for donor eggs can get a "discount" if they are using an "uproven donor", and... very un-PC a multi-ethnical donor or one who doesn't have a degree gets less money, too. It's a little better than in India, where surrogates and donors get a fraction of the profit. But not much.

Robert Klitzman the study's lead author and a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, has his thoughts on what can be done to solve these problems. "I would argue that there needs to be more attention from ASRM about these agencies, because you don't want these women exploited," he said. He repeated what that means, that women are being compensated for their time only, and should not therefore be paid for the quality of eggs. He stressed the importance of following the ethical guidelines on egg donation, and said that egg donation is no simple thing.

Still, the government is nervous about making decisions about the reproductive lives of their citizens. Klitzman pointed out: "To donate eggs is not an entirely benign procedure. It's not high, high risk. But you're taking very high doses of hormones, having needles stuck in your ovaries." A high percentage of the websites that were researched didn't include any information about the short term risks of egg donation, and many girls between 18 and 20 were recruited without the necessary evaluation. Are you, perhaps, considering egg donation to help someone else, or to make money? Don't rely on online agencies to protect your interests, and do your own research about the risks both physical and psychological.

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