Are human eggs being sold?
Yes, and it’s a violation of human dignity, according to critics such as Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet. “I think it’s deeply problematic,” she has said, “to encourage women, for money, to sell their reproductive capacities and their parenting rights, both of which are at issue in egg sale transactions.”
But Dr. William R. Keye Jr., president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, answers the same question with an emphatic no.
His group, which has 8,600 members, views monetary payment to egg donors the same way federal and state laws view compensation to organ and tissue donors: It is for the work the donor goes through so that an organ or tissue can be retrieved, not for the organ or tissue itself.
The group’s ethical guidelines say payment to donors of”$5,000 or more requires justification and sums above $10,000 go beyond what is appropriate” – though Keye said cost of living increases may help explain why New York City area clinics recently raised their payments to $7,000.
In any case, studies show that donors are not providing their eggs for the money, but rather largely for altruistic reasons, he said.
Most states ban only the sale of tissues that are considered nonreplenishable, says Kenneth F. Baum, a physician and attorney in New Haven, Conn., who has studied the legal aspects of egg donation. According to Baum, human eggs, like sperm and blood, are regarded as replenishable.
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There are other legal-ethical issues involving donors. Currently, five states – Florida, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas – have laws saying that donors have no rights or duties with respect to raising the child, according to University of Texas law professor John A. Robertson, author of “Children of Choice: Freedom and the New Reproductive Technologies.” He believes more states should have such laws.
Keye and Baum believe that reproductive technology issues might well be explored by a national commission, as first proposed by Bartholet.
“Someone needs to be safeguarding the interests of the involved parties, including the kids,” Baum says. Consumers, directors of fertility clinics, public policy makers and legal scholars could sit down and figure out what the dangers and potential safeguards are for all.
Bill Cordray and Barry Stevens agree. They were both born with the help of sperm donation and are founders of a group called APPART, or Association of People Produced with Assisted Reproductive Technology, which seeks to win the right to know their full genetic identity.
Stevens, a 49-year-old filmmaker in Toronto, made a documentary called “Offspring,” about his search for his genetic father and half-siblings.
The focus of infertile people and their doctors is on achieving a successful pregnancy, not on the rights of the resulting children, says Cordray, 56, of Salt Lake City. “All we are seeking is a voice in the policies that shape our lives.”
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