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Assisted Reproduction

Asian Egg Donors Command A Premium Over Other Ethnic Groups

Shan Li of the Los Angeles Times takes a closer look at the egg donation industry and, in particular, the additional compensation Asian egg donors are able to command over their non-Asian counterparts. While I was interviewed for this article, key portions of my discussion were excluded which is not unexpected given the focus of the piece. However, I do wish more time was spent on the objectives and failings of the ASRM guidelines.

While many donor agencies rigidly comply with the ASRM guidelines (including Egg Donation, Inc.), a significant number do not. So while the article portrays a fairly accurate picture of the field, the limited focus on the self-regulating nature of the industry and the IVF facilities and donor programs that voluntarily adhere to these guidelines (at great financial hardship to themselves) left the story somewhat unbalanced.

It is important to note that those agencies that do comply with the ASRM guidelines find themselves at a significant competitive disadvantage as many egg donors will simply select the agency that offers the greatest compensation — not those that adhere to the highest ethics and guidelines of the industry. So in reading the article, please keep in mind that there are some checks and balances in place and capitalism does not run unchecked.

Nevertheless, the existing guidelines clearly do not function as hoped and it allows for abuses — both to the donors who are sometimes induced to donate without a full appreciation of the ramifications and recipient parents who might be unable to afford the obscene amounts being demanded. Finally, it should be noted that a class action lawsuit has been filed against the ASRM (and others) by a former egg donor for price fixing in setting a ceiling on donor compensation.

Overall, this is one of the best, most unbiased and comprehensive looks at this industry and I highly recommend everyone interested in this field read it in its entirety:

It’s technically called an egg “donation.” But if you’re a young Asian woman, donating your eggs to an infertile couple can fetch enough cash to buy a used car or perhaps a semester at college.

The same market forces that drive the price of cotton, copper and other commodities — supply and demand — have allowed Asian women to command about $10,000 to $20,000 for their eggs, also known as gametes or ova.

Women of other ethnic groups typically get about $6,000 when they can sell their eggs, but they often can’t for lack of demand, according to donation agencies and fertility clinics.

Clinic operators say the premium paid to Asian women reflects the shortage of willing donors for the growing numbers of infertile Asian couples who want a child who looks like they do. But the competition among these clinics — including ads screaming “ASIAN EGG DONORS NEEDED” in college newspapers — has spotlighted the commercial aspects of what is supposed to be an act of benevolence.

Federal law bans the sale of human organs, but selling eggs is legal in the U.S., according to lawyers who work in the field. Nevertheless, agencies are careful in their choice of words, saying they are not paying for the eggs but for the women’s time, pain and inconvenience.

That rubric makes it hard to argue that one race deserves more compensation than another, said Laurie Zoloth, who teaches bioethics at Northwestern University.

“A poor black woman or a poor Hispanic woman doesn’t suffer less than someone who is Asian or Jewish or a Stanford graduate,” Zoloth said. “The fact that we think of these gametes as having particular worth depending on race and class is really one of the starkest examples of how capitalism has entered the market in human parts.”

Linda Kline says she is joking when she refers to her eggs as precious “inventory,” but it’s hard to argue with the term. Kline, who is Chinese and Vietnamese (her maiden name is Tran) said she has donated her eggs three times, for a total of $26,000, through the Baby Miracles agency in San Marcos, Calif.

“They told me they had doubled the compensation for Asian donors because they were so sought-after,” said Kline, 26, a business major at San Diego Mesa College. “They said it was difficult to find Asian donors.”

Roxanne Sarro, director of Baby Miracles, confirmed that account, saying Asian donors can command higher fees — especially “if a donor is 100% Chinese [and] highly intelligent with a degree in math, for example.”

Clinic operators say Asian donors whose eggs are proved fertile with their first donation are typically able to increase their fee by large amounts with each subsequent donation, while other donors typically receive much smaller sums.

There’s nothing illegal about offering higher prices to get donors of certain ethnicities, said Lisa Ikemoto, a law professor at UC Davis who has researched the human egg industry.

“There is an absence of regulation in pricing eggs, so it’s not illegal to pay more depending on a women’s race and ethnicity, where she went to school, what her SAT score is,” Ikemoto said. “When you look at pricing practices, the eggs themselves are treated like commodities, with more valuable traits receiving higher compensation.”

Voluntary guidelines are set by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a nonprofit membership organization that makes recommendations to the fertility industry. Spokesman Sean Tipton said the guidelines say donors should not be compensated extra for “specific characteristics” such as ethnicity, beauty or high test scores.

But Ikemoto said that “to a fairly large extent, those guidelines are not being followed.”

Andrew Vorzimer, a lawyer who specializes in reproductive medicine, calls the egg market “the wild, wild West of reproductive medicine.”

“How do you find Asian egg donors? By offering more money,” said Vorzimer, who also owns Egg Donation Inc. in Encino. “I have seen contracts where donors are getting $50,000 or $100,000.”

Fertility industry experts say there are several reasons Asian eggs are in demand, including a cultural aversion to adoption. If a woman is infertile, they say, many Asian couples would prefer to use the husband’s sperm with a donor’s egg to conceive a child that carries at least half of the couple’s genetic identity than to adopt a baby from other parents.

Demand is also high among Jewish couples, many of whom put off having kids to pursue higher education or careers, clinic operators say. According to a report from the United Jewish Communities, half of Jewish American women have college degrees and 21% have graduate degrees. They tend to marry later, the survey says, and have lower fertility rates.

Clinic operators say there has been a shortage of Asian eggs for several years but that the deficit has been exacerbated by two factors: rising Chinese wealth, which has given more couples the means to come to the U.S. for surrogate parent programs, and this year a surge in Chinese couples interested in having babies in the Year of the Dragon, considered the luckiest year in the 12-year zodiac calendar.

One reason for the lack of supply is that Asian women are less likely to go through the discomfort of egg donations out of financial need. On average, Asian women earn higher salaries and are more likely to be college-educated than their counterparts in other racial groups, according to Labor Department statistics. Asian females out-earn white women by 13%, black women by 31% and Latinas by 52%, the agency said.

“A lot of young women who elect to be egg donors do so for financial reasons,” Vorzimer said. “But many Asian and Jewish donors who are in such high demand are young ladies who do not need that financial compensation. They are financially secure, so they don’t need to donate their eggs to fund a college education or a down payment on a first home.”

Big fees aren’t enough to attract Asian donors, in some cases. Last year, Jackie Gorton, owner of an egg donor and surrogacy agency in San Rafael, Calif., placed an ad in a local Chinese newspaper on behalf of a couple from Hong Kong. The ad offered $25,000 but got no response.

“Asians are very private, and this is a big shame for them,” Gorton said. “It depends on how westernized they are.”


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